by Sierra Winters
I have been in Austria for less than 48 hours, but it seems that I have been here for much longer. I have noticed so many differences in culture, and it helps tremendously to have a resident’s perspective and guidance on the Austrian customs and current events.
For instance, Magda, my younger sister, spoke to me about the upcoming elections and how worrisome and controversial they are due to the immigration problems. Every day, ten thousand Syrians flood into Austria escaping the war. This number is huge, especially considering the population of Austria is only about eight million. The Austrians don’t know how to provide for them-the Syrians must not take their jobs, but how can Austria just kick them out?
Another cultural difference is the food, which is great here, and I am glad that they can provide vegetarian food for me. I had the most delicious marmalade crêpe at a Film Festival. The drinking age in Austria is sixteen, and many young people were drinking wine at the Festival.
My German friend, Anna, said that there would be lots of bread for meals…she was right! For breakfast on Monday morning, we had amazing bread (some of it had pretzel dough interlaced) with marmalade and butter, and for dinner we had bread again, this time with butter, cheese, and fresh vegetables from their garden. Good food must come with a price though, and in this case I am not speaking of a large belly. When Austrians eat their food, they use a fork and knife, and keep both utensils in their hands the entire time they eat. It is not easy to eat a sandwich or a crêpe while holding a knife in your right hand and a fork in your left!
My family showed me many sights in Vienna, like the Parliament building and the Schönbrunn Castle, a summer home for royalty. Schönbrunn has the largest garden I have ever seen, complete with a zoo and several fountains and many flower beds. We walked up to the iconic building overlooking the garden, where the prince used to have breakfast. It had a gorgeous view of the city.
Our flat was in the heart of Vienna, directly next to the Rathaus, or the local government building. We also went to a film festival, where there was lots of traditional food and a play showing on a large screen for everyone to watch. Transportation fees in Vienna are on the honor system-we may or may not have forgotten to buy me a ticket. Oops…
After shopping in Vienna, we drove about 2 ½ hours to Schardenberg, where we live. It was mostly dark when we arrived, but I could still see the beautiful rolling hills. Running will be much more difficult here! When I entered the house, my mother, Margit, asked me to take off my shoes and she gave me a pair of slippers to wear instead. This is a common Austrian practice.
One of the first questions Magda asked me about America was can we “go out?” It turns out that in Austria, there are national curfews, similar to how minors cannot go to many malls at night on the weekends. Teenagers must be home by certain times according to their ages and where they are going.
The reality of partying is no subject that is purposefully ignored or strongly discouraged by the parents. Families are very honest about drinking (if they are of age). There is a much more honest environment here than where I live in America, and I think this makes for a much safer and more comfortable life.
The speed limit on the highways is between 100 and 130 km usually and on the backroads, it is 100 km. Thankfully, my family does not fit into the stereotype of reckless Austrian drivers.
Josef gave me three rules: no smoking, no drinking, and no kissing boys who don’t brush their teeth! The first day, we spoke mostly English, and now we are talking about 50/50. I can speak German well, but it is hard for me to understand it when other people speak it.