English Girl in Vienna

Cultural Commentator

More Thoughts on Integration

View of the Opera from Starbucks

When I speak German in shops the staff hear my accent and talk back to me in English because they like to be helpful and they like to speak English; true, it’s also part of their job to use English in a city where there are lots of tourists. But it got me thinking about integration and how people integrate with me. It’s not a one-sided thing. I am not expected to do it all alone.

The other day I found the Vienna Expat Center, its goal is to assist expats settling into life here, providing any information and assistance they can. But aside from people whose job it is to be nice to foreigners, there are many people who embrace outsiders and simply enjoy being international. Such examples include the group of Austrians sitting next to us in the Artis cinema, watching the Muppets in its original English version. In the Irish pub the other week there were a few locals in there enjoying the English footie and the Guiness.

I’m sitting in a coffee shop overlooking the Opera. After vowing to learn to like coffee, I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit that I’m in the Starbucks rather than in a traditional Viennese coffee house, and I’m drinking tea. However, I’m not the only one. There are locals in here speaking German so I fast that I can’t really catch anything. There are also lots of other nationalities. Some are tourists escaping the cold and some are foreigners that live here. There is a group of women to my right, all Indian. I think they are speaking Hindi, but I can’t be sure. They seem to be discussing ‘things’ rather than chatting like a group of friends and their ages are mixed, so I assume they are some kind of organised group, perhaps an expat group. Lots exist. There is a group in front of me of totally mixed nationalities. I know because they are speaking English slowly and each one leans towards the speaker, watching the mouth, trying hard to understand. I think one guy is Turkish. There is a blonde American girl. She speaks the loudest. They are talking about their experiences with the German language and what they are studying or doing for work. They are definitely a new group; they are so polite with each other. I immediately warm to them and wonder how they have come together. Just before they leave the American girl says,

“Thank you for the coffee.”

“Thank you for your friendship,” says the Turkish man with the white hair. It’s desperately sweet.

My point you ask? Integration; it’s not about dissolving your own culture in order to make it secondary to the culture of the new place in which you find yourself living. It’s the process of actually integrating a range of cultures and mixing it up, finding time to be a bit English and finding time to be a bit Austrian or any other nationality you come across. It’s not about degrading one culture at the expense of another and it’s not about self-denial. It’s about acceptance and it’s about accommodating all the facets of you in ways that coexist. I mix with the locals and, crucially, they make the effort to mix with me.

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