English Girl in Vienna

Cultural Commentator

Archive for the month “November, 2012”


There are lots of rules to follow in everyday life, no matter where you are in the world. What I have noticed about people in Vienna is that they are not afraid to take someone to task if they do no follow the rules. It was when I saw a man tell off an Italian tourist for talking loudly on her mobile, that it really struck me how individuals here try to impose and maintain public order. Unfortunately, there seems to be little understanding for mitigating circumstances; for example the man who told the Italian off had just got on and hadn’t realised that she was lost on the underground and was talking to the person she was obviously supposed to meet and the reason she was speaking loudly was because all the windows were open and she had to shout to be heard. There was no excuse in his mind for her talking loudly and so he told her off. Yesterday a woman told a man to turn down the volume on his phone because we could still hear his music despite his headphones; she literally pulled his headphones out to tell him this. Then, about thirty seconds later when we got to the next station, she got off and I wondered why on earth it mattered to her when she was getting off anyway. Once a man in a pub yelled at a table of people for laughing too loudly for his liking. A guy in the cinema told a group of kids to “Shut the F@@@ up!” because they were sniggering, which is slightly inappropriate to a group of kids.

I have been told off more times in the past year here than I ever have been as an adult. I got told off once for trying to get into a swimming pool without showering. The life-guard blew his whistle, shouted at me and chased me round the pool to point out my misdemeanour. The fact that all the signs about it were in German and the showers located in a secret place did not excuse my behaviour in any way. The walk of shame to the showers and back was a very long one as all the good and showered swimmers shook their heads at me. I got told off very rudely by a police woman the other night for crossing the road before the green man came on, even though there was no car around for miles. I got told off on an escalator last week because I was standing on the side that you’re supposed to walk up. The fact that my way was blocked by a massive dog sitting in front of me did not mean anything to the old grump complaining at me. Perhaps he thought I hadn’t done my duty of shouting at the dog to get out of the way, and therefore I deserved it. I got told off by a woman for cycling on a pavement on an otherwise deserted street. I also got told off by a police woman for the same thing and the fact that I’d just fallen off, had a bloody leg and was a bit wobbly evoked no sympathy. Ok, maybe it’s ok to be told to get off the pavement, but there are nice ways of doing it. Oh, and two waitresses have told me off for being rude enough to ask them for the bill after waiting about half an hour to get their attention.

Interestingly enough, the one rule the Viennese are quite happy to see flounced is the no smoking rule. I often walk through ‘Raucher Frei” train stations (no smoking) and pass groups of people whose heads I can’t see for the clouds of smoke. But no one tells those people off. Perhaps that is the one thing I would tell someone off for, but a lot of Austrians are determined to hang on to the right to smoke. When it comes to some issues, they don’t want legislation to tell them what to do, but they reserve the right to tell each other.

Even the signs seem to shout at you – ooo agressive!

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