English Girl in Vienna

Cultural Commentator

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

No More Schnitzel

Schnitzel overload

Occasionally, when you live abroad in a place very different to the one you grew up in, you get a bit fed up of it and you start yearning for something different. It can be anything that starts to niggle at you; the entertainment, the physical environment, the people, or the food. On this one particular Saturday, having reached the point of schnitzel saturation, I had had enough of Austrian food. When the issue of where to have lunch came up, I was adamant that I didn’t want to set foot in a place selling Austrian food with its greasy hunks of meat and sloppy potato salad which looks like a big splat on a plate. I needed to be somewhere that felt international and to eat something different. So we headed to the Brunnenmarkt, a big market in the 16th district of Vienna. I had heard about it from students and had overheard many complaints about that area in general because it has turned into a mini-Istanbul, all Turkish and no German. Perfect, we thought. I’ve never been to Turkey. So we headed down and yes it did feel different, the people were different, the price of the veg was cheaper, there was more of a buzz in the air because the people are less reserved than Austrians, the hot food stalls sold different food. We snacked on something I couldn’t catch the name of, something like a big hot pancake filled with spinach and feta and delicately spiced and gorgeous. However it wasn’t as Turkish as I’d been led to believe. The area was dotted with Austrian cafes and cake shops that were still doing a good trade and there were lots of Austrians there, shopping, eating and trading from their own cheese, meat and flower stalls. It was good to see that not everyone resents the ethnically different feel to the place like I thought because it does seem that out of all the immigrants in Vienna, the Turkish are the least liked. I have encountered lots of Turkish students who, having grown up here, state quite sadly that ‘Austrians are not polite’ and many had experienced negativity whilst growing up. I think Vienna needs to get over it; it is after all a capital city and capital cities thrive as multicultural hubs; they drive progress and globalism and most of all, add interest and flavour and life to a city. The main complaint about the Turkish is that they don’t integrate. But I wonder how is opening a market stall open to do business with any customer not integrating? And why would Turkish people speak German with each other? It wouldn’t make sense.

At the end of the long strip of market stalls is Yppenplatz, a wonderful square which is alive during sunny weather. It was just what I’d wanted; a place in Vienna that felt really international. There were cafes like you’d find in Paris, funky cafes like you’d find in any modern city, Greek places, Turkish places, Indian places, sea food places and wine bars selling local wine. It was packed with every kind of person and loads of Austrians which shows that a bit of an international mindset can bring everyone together and help you travel without the cost of a flight ticket. I was happy to chow down on lamb skewers with cardamom rice, succulent courgettes, tzatziki and loads of fresh salad with not a sloppy potato salad in sight.

I was feeling all warm and fuzzy as I took photos of Yppenplatz square; that was until a woman who walked in the way of one of my photos started talking to me in German, very fast German. When I said I didn’t understand she shrugged, looked angry, looked to the sky for the words then loudly and proudly said, in English, “English is bullshit!”

“Okay then,” I said, promptly turning round, thinking “move along”. My international bubble was burst. Perhaps it will always be like that for the Auslander abroad, anywhere abroad; always being reminded from the outside as well as the inside that you are different. She was entitled to her opinion, but not entitled to dump it on me so rudely, and unprovoked too. But I have a choice over how to respond. It was just the action and opinion of one person and not representative of the majority, so I decided not to retaliate against Vienna. The next day I was back on the goulash and feeling more sympathetic towards the humble schnitzel.

For more info on Brunnenmarkt:

http://www.wien.info/de/einkaufen-essen-trinken/maerkte/yppenplatz-lokalszene

Yppenplatz square, lots of lovely places to eat and relax

Lovely fruit and veg at Brunnenmarkt

Local cheeses in the 'Turkish' market

Spring has sprung

And in the middle of all the action, Stauds - a famous Viennese brand of jams and marmalades

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Oster

Easter market decorations

So by now I’ve spent my first Easter in Vienna and I have to say it was a lovely one and I was really impressed by the level of preparation for it. It wasn’t merely marked by the presence of chocolate rabbits and eggs in supermarkets, but it was celebrated as a festival and for a good few weeks. I loved how everyone, shops, restaurants, doctors clinics even as well as other places of business decorated their windows with colourful eggs, cute chicks and bunnies. Shops and bakeries sold special cakes and the city hosted Easter markets in some beautiful venues where you could buy the most delicate and intricately painted eggs to take home and decorate your house with. The most beautiful markets were at the Schonbrunn Palace and in a tiny old courtyard near the centre of the city.

People here like to mark the changing of seasons and the advent of major festivals. The city takes a seasonal approach to most things, including its food. For spring special cakes have appeared in the famous coffee houses and asparagus is making a come back in the supermarkets which is something that drove me mad last year when I couldn’t get any out of season, but something I appreciate now. The city is covered with gorgeous purple and white tulips which are starting to open and people rush to get a seat at an outdoor café whenever there is an hour of sun. It all feels lovely and traditional and I love how the city takes pride in differentiating between the seasons by making each one uniquely beautiful and attractive. Easter felt less commercial this year, but however much I tried to appreciate a real, hand painted egg, I couldn’t disassociate Easter from chocolate, namely with Cadbury’s Creme Eggs, which I love. After hunting around the shops and not being able to find any, I did what any expat would and got a visitor to bring a stash out and she did me proud. I’ve been enjoying my egg a day and I don’t even feel slightly guilty. Easter – how do you do it?

Schonbrunn Palace Easter market

One big egg at another Easter market at Freyung in the city centre

Not tulips from Amsterdam, but tulips from Vienna city council

No English girl in Vienna can live without them

 

Service?

Sometimes, I really think that the Viennese need lessons in customer service. They appear mostly uninterested in the experiences of their guests and even less interested in making money. In Vienna the staff rule. I have managed to make lots of serving staff very unhappy by my expectations as a customer and so I would like to share my knowledge of what irks them most.

They don’t like making eye contact. They are expert in snaking round tables ignoring everyone in their path who may be waving at them.

They don’t like being asked more than once for something. Even if a period of twenty minutes has elapsed and you understandingly think that perhaps they have forgotten, it makes them irritable, so much so that they are likely to complain at how much work they have. They will gesture around the room demonstrating how rude of me it is and other customers to say that very offensive word ‘bitte’ (please) to try and get their attention.

They don’t like to let you pay. You can wait for an eternity, all empty cups and plates having already been cleared, for someone to see if you would like something else or perhaps pay. You would think they’d like to get the bill settled and get more paying customers seated; you’d think they’d like you to pay before you started seriously considering doing a runner, but no, you can wait an age to pay your bill and all attempts at waving your wallet at them will not make them want to take your cash. I was once in a coffee shop where a customer tried to pre-empt this problem and tried to pay when her coffee arrived; she was unceremoniously instructed to put her money away and pay at the end because, in the waiter’s actual words, it was “not Starbucks”. Sometimes you don’t have enough time to play the waiting game, so surely it would be better to let someone pay when they like so they can make a hasty exit rather than them not come in at all. Shouldn’t the customer who chooses to spend their money in their establishment be treated a little better? But I am forgetting the waiter; he was probably very put out on that occasion, distasteful as it was for someone to want to have a ‘quick coffee’, something totally contrary to coffee shop culture where you are supposed to linger for hours.

Staff don’t like to be flexible. Last week for example, I fancied an early evening drink in a place with a nice view of St Stephen’s Cathedral. There was the bar, which was unfortunately a smoking venue and really really smoky and so we tried to have a drink in the restaurant. To be allowed only to drink we had to sit near the door, in a windowless section, which defeated the object and so we politely asked if we could sit near a window. No. It wasn’t allowed. To drink, you had to sit in the most un-atmospheric part of the practically empty restaurant and stare at rust coloured walls. When we politely asked if we could sit just for half an hour in the practically empty restaurant near the window we were told to go in the bar. The fact we wanted a non smoking seat fell on unsympathetic ears. They were happier to see us leave than to bend ever so slightly and make a bit more money that day. Madness.

They like you to be ready to order when they are, even if you have literally only just sat down. If you try to choose quickly because you fear they may never come back if you don’t, they will sigh in exasperation as you make sense of the menu and decide between wine or beer.

I could go on, but I won’t. All I can say is that you cannot please them no matter how hard you try and you can’t get them to change. All you can do is be yourself and grow a thicker skin.

To follow are some pictures of a very nice café, where we experienced very good service last weekend. But then again, perhaps we got good service because we were good guests; we were ready to order exactly when he wanted us to and we didn’t wave him over, rather, we let him attend to us when he was ready because for once we weren’t concerned with time. I also think he was very flattered that I wanted to take a picture of his tie.

Waiter with a cool Gustav Klimt tie in Belvedere cafe

Lovely little cafe in Belvedere Palace and art gallery

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