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7 Things Every Austrian Learns Upon Moving to the US

Australia United States Travel
by Klaus Komenda Apr 3, 2015

1. To actually welcome associations with Arnold and Sound Of Music.

Telling someone you are from Austria can lead to one of three responses:

  • The person has an idea of where Austria is geographically, maybe has even traveled to Europe before. Rare, but it happens.
  • Your conversation partner blurts out keywords like “Arnold” (Schwarzenegger) or “Sound Of Music”. Not quite at the educational level of example #1, but hey, at least it’s something.
  • A confused look manifests on your partner’s face, followed by: “Oh. Don’t you guys eat kangaroo there?” Facepalm.

2. Wienerschnitzel is a fast food chain.

Seeing the name of a Viennese culinary icon on a triangular-shaped edifice of a fast food joint for the first time can be shocking. Even more disturbing is the fact that what they are selling does not relate in any way to a breaded, deep fried veal cutlet, usually served with potato salad.

3. Lay off the gas pedal on highways.

Austria has a speed limit of 130km/h (roughly 80 mph) on highways and neighboring Germany is known for no speed limit altogether. Driving on US highways therefore requires some restraint to avoid being flagged down by the type of highway patrol officer you have only seen on the movie screen before.

4. “How are you?” is more pleasantry than an actual question.

Inquiring about someone’s wellbeing in Austria is an honest question demanding an honest answer. You learn quickly that in the US, nobody really cares how you feel. Hold on, let me take that back. People might care, but they wouldn’t necessarily tell you that in an answer to this common conversation opener. You have to adjust to the fact that this is more to make it easier for people to get some small talk started rather than being actually interested in your emotional state in that very moment. Deal with it.

5. Public transport sucks. Mostly.

Vienna has five underground lines, 29 tram and 90 bus lines, meaning that even people living in the outskirts of this 1.8 million metropolis can get to where they want to go in a duration competitive with driving. With a few notable exceptions (like New York City, DC, and Chicago), public infrastructure in the US is abysmal. Should public transport offerings exist in a given area, then they are characterized by a patchwork of bus lines, light rail, and metro lines, requiring travelers to switch from one mode of transport to another multiple times to get to their destination, doubling or tripling travel time in some cases. Surviving without a car in the US is a daring challenge.

6. There are other places to eat than at fast food chains.

Well, at least in the big metropolitan areas and especially if you are willing to venture into different ethnic enclaves, like Chinatown. The choice of culinary options is astonishing and one can find anything from Afghan to Thai and not be tied to patties of ground meat in a sliced bun.

7. Annual vacation time is laughably short.

In Austria, one usually starts out his career at any given company with 25 days of annual paid time off. And let’s not forget the 13 public holidays in Austria. At the two previous companies I worked at in the US, I would have reached that annual allowance after approximately ten years of service. Ten. That is still much better than the meager two weeks that folks usually need to get by with in the States.

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