Before coming to Austria to study abroad, I expected that the customs would be slightly different, but still very much Westernized. I was wrong. While Internet and electric appliances have made their places in each home, the traditions in Schardenberg, my town, remain very prevalent.
We drink coffee and eat little cakes in the afternoon, lunch is the most important and well prepared meal of the day, and the supermarket is about the size of an American gas station, while the church is the largest structure in town.
I recently attended a festival in nearby Passau, Germany, where many people (including me!) wore lederhosen or dirndls. Passau is only five minutes away from Schardenberg, and, despite being in different countries, they share much of the same culture and history.
Schardenberg is a tiny town that first started to grow about one thousand years ago and now has a little over 2,000 inhabitants. When people pass each other on the streets, they always say “Grüß dich!” which means “Hello!” in English.
There is a very strong community, and many people are related. There is a town soccer team and orchestra. My host sisters, Anna and Magda, play the piano and clarinet. They both sing as well. Everything is within walking distance, and people here walk very much. Last year, my sisters walked 900 meters to the bus stop each morning before school!
Many people partake in alpine walking. However, many fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds also ride on mopeds before they receive their car licenses at seventeen years old. The test for a license is much harder here than in America; the test here also requires that you know the parts of the car and how they work together.
The views from Schardenberg are incredible. The town is on a hill that overlooks a river valley (where Passau is). In the distance, you can see the snow-covered Alps, and in the foreground, you can see rolling fields and meadows. In one direction is Germany, and in another is Austria. While running is a little harder here, the views make the affair much easier.
Lunch is a very important meal, and we alternate who cooks it each day. Yesterday, we had potato soup and a traditional dish called Apfelreis. This is rice with cinnamon and apples mixed into it. The apples were fresh from the aunt’s apple tree! My family also has a garden with lots of fresh vegetables and herbs. In the garden is a row of solar panels; Austria is very eco-friendly. After lunch, we usually play a card game. They introduced me to Ligretto, a fast-paced game much like Skipbo. They are trying to learn the American way of shuffling, which they call the “Vegas” style.
The supermarket is very different from American supermarkets. There is no cheddar cheese, evaporated milk, or peanut butter to be found! Instead, there is lots of fresh meat and bread. They don’t provide plastic bags, so we take a purse or book bag to carry the groceries.
While shopping in Passau, I noticed that leather and zippers are popular on clothing. There are leather pants, leather jackets, and leather skirts, and there are extra, nonessential zippers on sweaters, shirts, pants, and jackets. These clothes are sold in popular American stores such as H&M and Forever 21, as well as in stores unique to Europe.
I watched an Austrian Futball game at a friend’s house, a game that received much attention from the media. This game qualified Austria to play in the European Cup for the first time, and every news channel showed the happy result the next day.
My German is getting better, and my family is very helpful in the learning process. Magda quizzed me on the German word for zipper (Reißverschluss) until I knew it by heart! I cannot understand the local dialect, but luckily, everyone knows Hochdeutsch (High German).
So far, this has been a very eye-opening experience. I never realized how much culture can be found in everyday life. Not only have I noticed cultural aspects here, but I have also realized what cultural habits we maintain in America.