English Girl in Vienna

Cultural Commentator

Archive for the category “Observations on Culture”

The Joy of Sekt

Austrians love to celebrate and they love to celebrate with a glass of something fizzy. Well, don’t we all? I have been in many teaching establishments and offices over the years in Vienna and whenever I open a fridge to look for some milk for my tea, something which attracts comments from the locals who usually drink tea black, I am always stunned by the amount of alcohol I find and disappointed by the absence of milk. There is always booze, at least five bottles of Sekt in there. Sekt is sparkling wine and is the must-have drink for celebrating anything. Just as Spain has its Cava and Italy has its Prosecco, Austria proudly has its Sekt. There is a lot to celebrate in schools apparently – the start of the year, the end of the year, retirements, birthdays, Christmas, Fridays. Once in school they even celebrated the end of some professional development training, and many meetings end with a glass. Sekt is brought to house parties and is often an integral part of a gift. Sekt is also the main ingredient in the drink called a Hugo, which is sekt, a dash of both elderflower and lime, topped up with soda and garnished with mint. It is deliciously dangerous, seeing as it is like drinking pop.

When you celebrate, it is customary to say cheers, which is “prost”. There are, however, definite rules to how you must perform this ritual of saying prost. For example, you must clink your glass with only one person at a time. The reason being is that you must make eye contact with each person as you say prost and you can only do that one at a time, unless you have eyes that can move in opposite directions and you have control over that ability. You also cannot cross arms, so you cannot reach down to the end of the table over the prosting glasses of another pair; this is bad luck. It is like in Ghost Busters when you cannot cross the streams. You have to wait until the way is clear. You have to, of course, close the circle and say prost with everybody, but you must make sure that there is alcohol in every glass. It is a no-no to say prost without booze. I’ve been with Austrians who will say prost anyway even when somebody raises a soft drink, but they are only doing that to make allowances for the Auslanders who don’t know any better, and would never do that normally. The group-cheers, the very quick and convenient cheers, where you all clink your glasses together and cover a lot of people in one go is also definitely not allowed. That means that the whole process takes a long time and is quite intense with all the eye contact. It is hard to clink your glass with another while looking someone in the eye. There is the constant fear that you will miss the glass altogether or get too carried away and smash the glasses. Another reason eye contact is important is that apparently there is a superstition that says if you don’t make eye contact, you will have seven years of bad sex, and another one warning that you will have ugly babies; serious consequences indeed! So please take it seriously.

Over the summer, I was very happy to find a small bar dedicated to the sole selling of Austrian Sekt. I had actually heard about this place a year or so ago, but back then it was a smoker’s place and I am happy to say that it is now smoke free (a growing trend in Vienna which makes me happy), although the smell of old smoke does linger on. All the produce is from Burgenland, a province next to Vienna, on the border with Hungary. It enjoys the perfect wine-growing climate and produces vast amounts of lovely wine. So, do as the locals do, and get celebrating; it is a highly enjoyable part of the culture.

The Sekt shop

The Sekt shop

 

19 types to choose from. Where to start?

19 types to choose from. Where to start?

http://www.sektcomptoir.at/

 

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Martini Gansl

No, this is not a new type of cocktail. It would be pretty gross if it were because Gansl means goose, and I don’t think anyone would like a splash of goose fat mixed with their Martini and an olive.

The geese have certainly gotten fat and already been butchered in Vienna, but not for Christmas; for Martini goose season, which is now upon us. Running through November, this is a time when one can go to any restaurant and enjoy a feast of juicy roast goose, braised red cabbage which oozes with warm spices and apple, and big, fluffy dumplings which are an Austrian favourite and specialty.

Get in my belly!

Get in my belly!

 

Bob Cratchit carrying Tiny Tim home for roast goose Christmas dindins

Bob Cratchit carrying Tiny Tim home for roast goose Christmas dindins

I had never had goose before I came to Vienna. I had always associated it with the Cratchits’ Christmas dinner and Dickensian England. It is now a time I look forward to each year, and it is actually widely celebrated around parts of Europe, like in Germany and Slovakia for example, and finally I managed to find out the history behind it.

Martini refers to St. Martin, who, as legend has it, was a noble and celebrated Roman soldier. He was known for his good deeds towards the poor and famously cut his own cape in half to share with a freezing beggar he chanced upon. Seeing so many needy people around, he decided to renounce his life as a soldier and became a monk. So, why are geese eaten in his honour still to this day? Well, because as the story goes, the heads of the church heard about this former soldier from a very well-to-do family and decided that it was only fitting he should be promoted to the rank of bishop. When Martin heard of this he was aghast. He was happy with his humble life as a monk and had no aspirations to be elevated within the church. On hearing that the church officials were approaching his village, he decided he needed to hide. He hid himself in the only place he could find at such short notice, a barn filled with geese. The geese were not happy at all with this human invader crouching amongst them and began to squawk their loud disapproval and, thus, humble Martin’s hiding place was betrayed by the geese. He was indeed discovered and made a bishop. The goose has remained a symbol of St. Martin ever since and became the main ingredient of the last feast to signify forty days of fasting before Christmas, now known as the time of advent.

It is a lovely, special time in Vienna, a pre cursor to Christmas and a chance to get together and enjoy a big, hearty meal; something that Austrians do very well.

Taken at Zum Martin Sepp in Grinzing, where I recently enjoyed a lovely goose dinner

Taken at Zum Martin Sepp in Grinzing, where I recently enjoyed a lovely goose dinner

Autumn has Come to Vienna

Happy pumpkins make the best pumpkin soup

Happy pumpkins make the best pumpkin soup

 

Autumn is a lovely time in Vienna and is characterised by three things; pumpkins, chestnuts and booze.

Pumpkins are everywhere: supermarkets are filled with turnips, squash and gourds of all shapes and sizes; pumpkins are used as decoration all around shopping centres and in people’s homes and not just as a nod to Halloween, but in celebration of the season in its own right. Pumpkin soups, salads and ravioli appear on every restaurant menu. I even went to a festival dedicated to the celebration of pumpkin-time and got to sample pumpkin punch and pumpkin beer.

Autumny decorations for sale

Autumny decorations for sale

Brass accompaniment for  the pumpkins

Brass accompaniment for the pumpkins at the festival

Pumpkin display at the festival on the hill at Am Himmel

Pumpkin display at the festival on the hill at Am Himmel

Horse chestnuts, having fallen from the trees can be seen rolling around pavements, but sadly, children here don’t play conkers as the game is unknown. Roasted chestnuts, called Maroni, are available on most street corners and always make me think of a Dickensian winter scene.

And finally, the booze part. Autumn is the time when Sturm is available. Sturm is wine in its very earliest form, basically fermented grape juice. It is cloudy and, due to its juice-like taste, can be very potent as it is tempting to knock it back much quicker than you would a glass of wine. Locals warn you to only have one or two glasses because for many it can be sturmisch (stormy) for the stomach and be an inducer of diarrhoea. Stalls pop up all over the city centre offering red and white varieties.

Boozey grape juice straight from the barrel at a pop-up stall in the city centre

Boozey grape juice straight from the barrel at a pop-up stall in the city centre

So, enjoy the orangey pumpkin glow of autumn before winter and the Christmas markets are upon us, but please be careful; for while it is tempting to jump into a big pile of golden autumn leaves and crunch your way through them, remember that this is Vienna and there may be a big pile of dog poo lurking beneath the surface.

Don’t Mention the War

fawlty-towers-t-shirt-war-500x500 How can I, in the two years I have been writing this blog, not have mentioned Hitler? It’s that Britishness engrained in me which means that even though I talk about the war and Hitler, I never do with the locals. I knew that I was moving to Vienna about a year before I actually did and from that moment on, I got everything out of the library that I could about World War II and the man who started it. The book by Brigitte Hamann called Hitler’s Vienna follows the life he lived in Vienna when he arrived as an eighteen year old. It even gives his old addresses and I found myself on a morbid Hitler tour which took me to 31 Stumpergasse, where he apparently lived in a shared room as a penniless young man trying to make it in Vienna. I have no idea if this building is still the original; perhaps it was bombed and rebuilt after the war, but it made me shiver all the same when I thought of the ideas and the plans that were being formulated in the mind of the Führer as a young adult.

One of Hitler's Vienna addresses

One of Hitler’s Vienna addresses

 

Whenever I read this book in public, I always bent the front cover back so that no one could see it.

Whenever I read this book in public, I always bent the front cover back so that no one could see it.

And that brings me to the impact it has had on language. The word Führer, which means leader, stems from the root word führen, which means to lead or guide. You can still use that verb, but you can’t use the noun. If you want to say you are the leader of a group, you have to say you are the Leiter, or even use the English loan word Manager. In every German course I take someone inevitably declares him or herself to be the Führer when they are talking about running a group or being a team leader in work; an honest mistake by those trying to get to grips with the language. Whenever this occurs, our teacher always stops and tells us, “Der Führer is schon tot. Gott sei dank!” (the Führer is dead. Thank God!) and he is right to warn us about the offence we could cause by using that word.

 

In school the other day, I picked up the mandatory history books and saw that the war is dealt with honestly, with warnings for the past not to be forgotten. Almost every school has the book “Die Welle”, The Wave, on its literature reading list. This comes from an American TV-film written about a true story of a high school teacher who, in response to being asked why ordinary Germans didn’t do something about Hitler and his wave of persecution, starts an experiment to try to show how ordinary people get caught up in a mob mentality. We have indeed seen The Wave, dubbed in German, in our German class. Most children here will read the German translation in school as a warning about following the crowd and getting swept along in a movement without stopping to question.

 

The city drips with references to Hitler, the war and its legacy. There are streets named after famous Nazi Hunters and a whole Israeli and Jewish community whose synagogues, schools and cultural centres are protected by armed police patrols. The second district is known as the old Jewish district and Praterstern, a large train station now, is the location where Jews were rounded up and removed from the city to the work, concentration and death camps. It is only in recent years that this district has started to be regenerated and seems to be more up-and-coming. There are monuments that say ‘niemals vergessen’ (never forget) and there are frequent art exhibitions all with the same aim; to protect against oblivion. They know that to not forget the past is the only way to protect the future. When you walk around the city it is as if some famous landmarks bear a ‘Hitler was here’ mark and I find myself telling my visitors as we walk past the opera that Hitler used to go there, being able only to afford last minute standing room only tickets and that he was greatly influenced by the grand performances. Likewise, when we walk around the splendid Ringstrasse, I talk about how Hitler was influenced by the pomp and ceremony of Kaiser Franz Joseph’s parades and included many of the same elements in his public rallies and speeches.

 

Whilst not wanting to forget, the locals don’t like to talk about Hitler. Eating out with friends the other week my Austrian friend mentioned Hitler and immediately followed it with the realization, “Uh-oh. I just said Hitler in Austria,” and whilst we laughed, it was true that people at the surrounding tables had all pointedly turned and looked at the moment the name was mentioned. When Russell Brand recently posted on YouTube that he was sitting on the bed that Hitler once slept in in Hotel Imperial, it was reported in the free tabloid paper the next morning and declared to be an unfunny, insensitive joke and the hotel was quick to release a statement to distance itself from the truth of Brand’s assertion. It’s a good thing that Hitler’s shadow across the city still makes us shudder and the city should make sure that no one forgets.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxQTcQdIZfM#t=39 for Russel Brand’s YouTube post

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVRXXbU-z7U for The Wave on YouTube

http://www.amazon.com/Hitlers-Vienna-Portrait-Tyrant-Young/dp/1848852770 for Hamann’s book

We Three Kings

Today, on the 7th January, most Viennese went back to work and all the kids went back to school. Why so late, why not on the 6th, like in the UK? The answer is because the 6th of January, which we know as Epiphany, is Three Kings’ Day here and it is a religious public holiday.

The three kings can actually be seen walking around the city, taking the form of children dressed up as Casper, Melchior and Balthasar bestowing good luck on houses whose occupants open their front doors when they hear the singing three kings. The kings bless the house and in chalk write 20+C+M+B+14 over the door frame (the year 2014, with the initials of the kings in between). This is just one of the differences hiding amidst the many similarities we share in the ways we celebrate at Christmas time.

Let’s start with the Christmas tree, which I prefer to put up as early in December as I can. The earliest I have managed to buy a tree here is 9th December and I put it up straight away to enjoy it for as long as possible. This, according to the locals is far too early and unusual behaviour. Trees, if they are bought a couple of weeks before Christmas, are often stored out in the cold on balconies, still all wrapped up, ready for the big reveal on the 24th.

Christmas Eve, which for me from my cultural background is treated as the long day of anticipation before the big day, is the day on which Christmas is celebrated in Austria. Although shops are open in the morning, most places close around 2pm. The day time is a busy and buzzing time with lots of people out and about working, buying last minute things, or grabbing a lunch time drink with friends. Then, in the afternoon, those with children go on a small outing; the purpose of which is solely to get the children out of the house so that the parent who remains can put up and decorate the Christmas tree in record time as well as laying out all the presents. The children are brought home a few hours later by the other parent, or the helpful grandparents, and the kids return home to a wondrously festive front room and dive into their presents, which were brought not by Santa, but by the Christkind (meaning ‘Christ Child’ in English). The image of the Christkind is that of a teenage child, usually a girl with long blond hair, radiating goodness and looking suitably angelic in a flowing white gown; not your average fat Santa that’s for sure!

17 year old Valerie beat the competition to be 2013's Christkind

17 year old Valerie beat the competition to be 2013’s Christkind

Questions surrounding the Christkind usually occur around the same time that children who are used to another more fatherly-looking type of present deliverer start to come up. Kids start to notice that they never get to see the Christkind and realise the strange coincidence that Mum or Dad is never with them when they go out and the Christkind comes to their house.

The image of Santa, or Father Christmas is present but he is called the Wiehnachtsmann (Christmas Man), and is used in many advertising campaigns and is more linked to German traditions. The familiar image of Saint Nic goes by another name, that of Nikolo or Nikolaus, and he comes to visit children much earlier, on 6th December. The familiar concept of naughty and nice children deserving or being undeserving of presents applies to this date. Naughty children can expect to be visited by Krampus, which is a scary looking devil type creature who comes with long branches ready to hit the naughty children with. Such unlucky children can only hope to be given a lump of coal. However, on the next day, good children are rewarded by Nikolo who treats them to nuts, tangerines and chocolates. There were lots of such treats going around the school I teach in on this day and it reminded me of how as a child as well as my small Christmas gifts, I would always be given a couple of tangerines in my stocking.

Motivation to give up your naughty ways

Motivation to give up your naughty ways – meet Krampus

Amidst the differences, it was nice to discover that everybody loves a good Christmas song, and as my classes sang along to Last Christmas it showed that, whatever the traditions, everyone loves singing along to Wham.

http://www.heute.at/news/oesterreich/wien/art23652,955857

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2013/dec/17/krampus-evil-santa-germany-pagan-demon

One Glühwein, Two Glühwein, Three Glühwein, Lama!

It’s my favourite time of year in Vienna. It is Christmas market time. It is actually the reason I moved to Vienna. I came here on holiday once at the beginning of December and instantly fell in love with the twinkly splendour of the city.  A handful of markets opened last weekend and the remainder open this weekend and so, seeing as they are the reason that this English girl is in Vienna, I thought a write up was in order.

The locals I have spoken to all say that they totally avoid the market at the Rathaus, which is the biggest one and pulls the most tourists in, so it can get really busy, uncomfortably so at times. It is however, a very grand and lovely one with the biggest Christmas tree lit up amidst the back drop of the grandly gothic town hall building. The Viennese complain that it is too commercial and sells rubbish, but if you want some lovely Christmas tree decorations, toys and sweets, sweets and more sweets then it is more than worth a visit. Be warned, it also has the most expensive Gluehwein. Coming in at four Euros a cup, it is a whole Euro more than at other markets. Last year the prices pretty much seemed to be uniform, but this year there is a noticeable difference in cost, although it has to be said, it definitely tastes good.

Rathaus on a moody grey afternoon

Rathaus on a moody grey afternoon

Gingerbread heart heaven

Gingerbread heart heaven

Next we have the Spittelberg market which lines the small and charming lanes around Stiftgasse. It is small, but perfectly formed and has a very unique feel to it.  Most people agree it is best for buying jewellery, so it is a good place to buy a few presents. It also has great spaces under trees lit with fairy lights in which to enjoy a Gluehwein or Punsch. If you get too cold, there are also lots of bars and restaurants to shelter in and it has many covered areas in which to stand and have a drink in. It is very atmospheric, especially in the evenings.

A fine piece of Spittelberg jewellery

A fine piece of Spittelberg jewellery

Yesterday I was at the Karlsplatz Christmas market, right in front of Karlskirche church and it was there I discovered it is the best place for lamas. No, I hadn’t had too much mulled wine, there were actually lamas being led around. They were part of the ‘attractions’ for kids, because this market is probably the best one for families. It has an area dedicated for kids, with animals, straw for them to play in and a little workshop for them to do crafts. Food and drink stalls circle this area and so parents can amuse themselves while keeping an eye on the kids. This market is also popular with locals who appreciate the crafts, ceramics and glassware on sale. Lovely atmosphere, lovely Gluehwein and lovely lamas. Oh and if you ever wanted to see a photo of the baby Jesus, this is the place to go.

The market at Karlskirche

The market at Karlskirche

Here's a close up of that little baby Jesus

Here’s a close up of that little baby Jesus

That lama just winked at me I swear

That lama just winked at me I swear

The market I will end on is my favourite one of all. The Freyung market claims to be the oldest and for me it is definitely the most Christmassy. Freyung is a gorgeous little square which is beautiful at any time of year, but is especially magical at Christmas. It’s great for Christmas decorations and gourmet food products like mustards and honey. Even the Viennese give the Freyung market their seal of approval.

The old Viennese Christmas Market

The old Viennese Christmas Market

There are many more markets around the city, which I will try and review within the next few weeks. Until then enjoy the hot booze, the hot chestnuts and the lovely lamas.

Christmas jingle and sparkle

Christmas jingle and sparkle

Back to School

At the start of September the kids went back to school and this year, I went with them. Now teaching in Viennese schools, I get to experience first hand the Austrian education system.

The first difference compared to the UK is that school children here do not wear uniforms. That has of course been obvious since I arrived here more than two years ago, but similar to the UK, the shops all use the Back To School theme as a marketing campaign. I expected it in stationery shops, but was surprised to receive a brochure through my door from C&A promoting its back to school range. I love how they still have C&A here when it disappeared from British high streets in the mid nineties and yes, they have all the same ranges like Clock House and Yessica and yes, it is always just that little bit unfashionable. I flicked through with interest to see what their back to school range was, thinking that perhaps there were some schools that have uniforms that I just did not know about, but it became apparent that back to school clothes are in fact just normal everyday clothes which you should just buy in preparation for September.

Back to school in your jeans.

Back to school in your jeans.

So, similarly casually dressed in my jeans, I went off to start the new school year. My lasting impression from the first day is of the technology, which blew my mind. Not because there is a lot of it, but because it’s so rubbish and virtually non-existent. Any computers they do have are unbelievably slow. In the staffroom there are two computers for all the staff. No teachers are given laptops. There are no computers or interactive smart boards in classrooms. In fact, it’s like stepping back in time to see chalkboards being the main teaching aid and the chalk and talk method still being the main way of teaching. It frustrates the teachers and accounts for them only being in school when they have to teach: you really do have to go home to do all your planning and admin.

I had often wondered, upon seeing large groups of children hanging around the streets as early as 1pm on a week day, why they never seemed to be in school. During my first few days it all became clear to me. Pupils have to be in school at 7.45am and schools pack all their lessons into the morning and go right through without a lunch break. Instead, they have a fifteen minute break called a Jause when the kids try to stuff as much bread and pop into their mouths as possible whilst also trying to run around the school corridors. Often they cannot wait until this Jause and so try to eat in the five-minute breaks between classes. The absence of a long break when they can run off some energy means that they have ants in their pants in class. School is out for some by 1pm, for others it is 2pm. On one or two days a week each class may have to stay until 3 or 4pm for a later lesson, and on these days they can have a proper school lunch, but that is also a strange system to me, to finish at varying times through the week with a timetable that can change every couple of months. I often wonder how parents cope with the irregularity of the school hours. It’s strange to see children and teachers leaving the school at different points during the school day. I wonder how they keep track of everyone. As a teacher of British origin in Vienna, I find this system of a school day without many breaks really tough because there’s never enough time to make, let alone enjoy, a cup of tea!

Is that appropriate foot wear?

Is that appropriate foot wear?

Wein in Wien

With the onset of autumn, I have started thinking back to the summer and how we coped with the high temperatures. One pleasant way was to head to higher ground. You might not know this, but Vienna is not all just city city city. It is hugged by a forest and surrounded by hills which the locals love to walk in, cycle in, jog in, but mostly, drink wine in. For in the tiny little villages on the outskirts of the city, and in the hills, grow lots of vines which produce lovely grapes, from which you get lovely local wine.

Dotted around the vineyards and walking trails you can find little taverns selling the new wine. The style of these Heurigen varies from very informal ones which operate out of a hut where you can relax on deck chairs only a stone’s throw from the vines, to the longer-established ones with their heavy wooden interiors with twee curtains.

A spring view from a Kahlenberg Hill winery

A spring view from a Kahlenberg Hill winery

Grinzing, a part of the nineteenth district of Vienna, is well-known for its Heurigen and bus-loads of tourists regularly roll up to enjoy some wine and schnitzel, but it’s not just the tourists who visit these. Throughout the long summer evenings, most Heurigen outdoor gardens are full, with tables reserved for large groups of people both young and old. It’s a part of the culture that I really love, as do all of my expat friends. After all, I like to think I am doing my bit for the environment by drinking wine that is literally produced just down the road: my wine doesn’t have to travel half way round the world. Imagine that; drinking wine to help the environment, good conscience booze – another reason to love Vienna!

Winery Mayer in Grinzing which was once where Beethoven stayed (can see the appeal!)

Winery Mayer in Grinzing where Beethoven stayed (can see the appeal!)

Austrian wine is little known in the UK, but actually there are many wine regions throughout the country and wine is an integral part of the culture. I have wiled away many a Sunday afternoon with a walk down Kahlenberg hill, wandering from one vineyard to another, and there are many festivals throughout the year to celebrate the local produce.

Most Austrians drink their wine with soda as spritzers, which is probably wise considering a litre of wine will only set you back around ten Euros and is extremely quaffable. There is always a buffet selling bread, ham and cheese to soak up some of the alcohol.

Heurige Zimmerman in Salmonsdorf

Heurige Zimmerman in Neustift am Wald

Another view of the Zimmerman tavern

Another view of the Zimmerman tavern

The staff need muscles to carry all the wine and fizzy water

The staff need muscles to carry all the wine and fizzy water

Early autumn views

Early autumn views

Lovely wine

Lovely wine

These taverns are open from around mid April to November, so you can enjoy the various seasons of wine. At the moment it’s Sturm time, when people enjoy the very early wine which takes the form of cloudy grape juice still fermenting and is surprisingly alcoholic. So, you see, the English Girl in Vienna is not always pounding the pavements in the city soaking up the culture, but can often be found in the forest and hills imbibing a lot of it – along with the locals, doing my bit for the environment.

View from Heurige Sirbu, about half way down Khalenberg Hill

View from Heurige Sirbu, about half way down Khalenberg Hill

2012-08-18 18.17.19

http://www.pfarrplatz.at/heuriger-eng.htm

http://www.weinhof-zimmermann.at/

I Speak the Lingo You Know (Well, Kind of…)

I am still struggling with the language. I don’t mind. I know it will take another year before I feel comfortable with it, and I feel quite positive that I am chipping away at it and making the effort. I have been attending classes steadily since last April and I’m signed up for an intensive summer course.

It’s weird, but I mostly speak German with people from outside Austria; these people are the others on my German course. I’m happy that English is not our common language, because to get on with each other and have a natter, we must do so in our broken Deutsch and I love it. Once, I walked with my Italian friend for twenty minutes on our way home from class and we spoke German the whole time. We attracted many confused looks from locals along the way as we butchered the language in our heavy accents, but somehow we both made ourselves understood.

The people I speak German with the least seem to be the Austrians themselves. Take for instance the other day; I called a restaurant to make a reservation and did the whole thing in German. I was so utterly proud of myself and felt quite smug until the guy taking the booking repeated the whole thing back to me in English by way of confirmation. I felt dejected and very sorry for myself.

My course mate from Nepal asked our teacher how she could improve her pronunciation because whenever she speaks German in shops or cafes, the listener invariably screws up his or her face in utter confusion. The teacher told her she had good pronunciation and was perfectly intelligible. He said that of course she had an accent, like we all do and assured her that those who cannot understand her probably have the same problems with native speakers from other parts of Austria, or from Germany. He then went on to say it was the Viennese way to make a face on every possible occasion and we should not be put off by it. I then told him the predicament I have, that everyone can hear as soon as I open my mouth that I am English and immediately speaks back to me in English. He advised me to tell them to stop and to explain that I must practise my Deutsch. I did this once in a pub. I spoke German; the waiter spoke English.

I said, “Ich kann Deutsch sprechen.”

He said, in English, “I can speak English.” Fair enough, I thought, and we laughed.

It has been suggested that Austrians love to practice their English and on reflection, it does seem that they are trying to be nice to me by doing this. I also encounter people on a daily basis who have spent a lot of time and money on learning English, so I don’t really blame them for wanting to put their language skills to use after all the resources and energy they have invested. There does seem to be a bit of a love affair with the English language. In fashion magazines, most articles will have a headline written in English with the actual piece in German, and so it is with many shop names around the city. Consequently, I have found peace with the knowledge that all my dealings with locals will occur with me speaking German and them speaking English, and all my dealings with other Auslanders will be completely in German. It is one of the many quirks of living in Vienna.

English titles and captions in "Wienerin" (Viennese Woman)

English titles and captions in “Wienerin” (Viennese Woman)

DSC_0274

Wurst

People in Vienna love eating sausages. There are Wurstl stands everywhere, always doing a roaring trade. There is no time of day or night that is not conducive to snaffling a sausage with a bit of mustard. What I was amazed at the first time I had a hotdog here was how it is served. The bun is not sliced lengthways down the middle for the sausage to be laid in; rather, the bun is speared on a long metal point first. This makes a long hole in which mustard and tomato sauce is squirted before the sausage is put in. I had never seen that before anywhere and thought it was so simple, yet ingenious. The best thing is that because the hot dog is contained, it cannot jump out and so you don’t need to use two hands to eat it to ensure the contents don’t end up all down your jacket. Instead, it means you can eat it with one hand, leaving the other hand free to hold the can of beer that you can also buy from every sausage stand in the city. This is also an alien concept for me: I’ve never see a hotdog seller anywhere else serving booze.

Spear a hotdog bun

Spear a hotdog bun

spikey

spikey

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Another type of fast food that the Viennese are obsessed with is stir-fried noodles. I think of food in Vienna as being quite traditional and don’t find there to be as many international restaurants as in other capital cities, so it’s quite interesting that Asian style noodles have been adopted as their own. Just like the sausage stands, there are Lucky Noodle stands all over the place. Even McDonalds went through a period of selling bowls of fried noodles as part of their efforts to provide for local tastes.

And finally, I must mention the kebab, which here is called a “Kebap”. Here, Kebap availability is round-the-clock, and you don’t need to be drunk in order to eat one. A Kebap is as acceptable a snack as a sausage or noodles, or just like grabbing a sandwich back in the UK. I still find it strange to see someone eating a kebab on a train at noon even though they are fully sober. I have indulged in a daytime kebab a couple of times, just for the sake of research, but unable as I am to disassociate them from drunkenness, it has only been during those times I’ve been a bit hungover. Even kebab eating habits are shaped by culture.

A kebab? In broad daylight?

A kebab? In broad daylight?

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