The long-standing joke amongst Austrians goes along these lines; there are only two reasons to become a teacher and these are July and August. That’s because schools are out for the whole of those two months and the holidays are looonnnnggggg.
Summer holidays are taken very seriously here; everyone recognizes the importance of taking a break and most think that one week just is not adequate. During my first two years in Vienna I was a freelance English teacher and I learned the hard way in the first year that I had to save a lot of my salary from autumn and spring in order to make up for the loss of pay in summer when the fervour for English learning evaporates with the heat and all English learners exit the city for holidays. It is common for people to save up most of their holiday for the summer months and have around three to four weeks off, whether in one lump or staggered over the two months.
What surprised me and still continues to do so is the attitude towards holidays from those in business or public services. Holidays are considered a right, a normal, integral part of summer and it is common to walk past cafes and smaller, independent shops and see that they have closed so they can take their holidays. The desire to make a profit, it would seem, takes a break too, or perhaps it is strategic: perhaps all their customers are away and so it makes sense to close while it is quiet. Official institutions take a break too and you should not expect to get official paper work done quickly at this time. Indeed, last year I started a new job in September and had a terrible time in August trying to find someone in the human resource department to actually get my documents to. I also did not receive my first salary until October because the people in accounts were off on holiday and so could not process everything in time for the September pay date. The notion of such staff being required to stay around in August to process the many new teachers’ contracts is preposterous and although people might not like it, it is an accepted fact that things pretty much grind to a halt in summer.
The biggest surprise for me though was what happens when doctors go on holiday. Most doctors in Vienna have set hours when they have open clinics where you can just turn up and wait in line to see your doctor. The beauty is that no appointment is necessary. The downside is that occasionally you turn up, after having taken the morning off work because they may only be open from 9-1pm on that particular day, only to find a big sign on the door saying they are off on holiday. I was used to a system where a locum doctor would be on duty, or other doctors in the practice would substitute, but clinics here often have just the one doctor and locums are not used. They do, however, provide a name and address of a substitute doctor, but then you have to find them and hope that they are open at the same time, which is often not the case.
The difference in approach is something I am gradually getting used to and I like this European attitude that says summer equals holiday and seeing as summers can be sizzling hot then it seems fair enough. The newspapers recently reported that we have had the worst summer in Austria for a while but compared to England, obviously it has still been a decent one.
What I do love during the summer is that you can go to one of the many outdoor pools and enjoy some rays. Here’s a picture of my local pool, which is better than a lot of holiday resorts.
It is just a shame that even these pools also take it in turns to close down for three weeks over the summer period, despite demand remaining high. Still, it is a nice way to spend your all-important, long holiday without having to leave Vienna.