I consider myself to be pretty well-travelled and trained, however I was still surprised by a great many things when I moved here. Read on for my list of ten ten things I may never have learnt had I not lived in Austria.
How to drive in the snow/fog/ice
I look back fondly on the cold Melbourne mornings that I had to concentrate a little more than usual due to mild fog, or run the defogger on the windscreen for a few minutes before heading to work. I learnt to drive in the icy/snowy winter conditions of Austria because I simply didn’t have a choice. Some days I arrived at work sweaty and a little wild-eyed, but I guess I’m better off for it! And I won’t be so afraid this winter!
How to speed
I’m a bit of a scrooge and I hate paying for things when I don’t need to. This includes speeding fines. In Australia, the ‘3km over and you’re busted’ rule tends to stop the majority of people from speeding excessively. I’d just gotten used to, over the years, simply sitting on the speed limit. But not here! Here, especially on the autobahn, if you’re not doing at least 10ks over, you’re going slow. It took me a while to get used to it, but I’m pretty good at speeding now.
How to tuck my shirt in
You know when your mum used to go crazy at you on a winter’s morning about tucking your shirt in? I discovered that here in Austria, when it goes below zero, tucking your shirt in is an absolute necessity. Otherwise you probably will get cold and sick. One of the first things I did upon winter’s inevitable arrival was go out and buy a whole lot of long singlet tops to wear under everything. None of my Melbourne-purchased tops was long enough to tuck into my pants.
Why English people get so sunburnt in Australia
It’s a classic sight in Australia… the tomato-red, miserable looking backpacker is definitely English, and just had an overdose of the great Aussie sun. But now I’m in Austria, I get it. First of all, the sun here is nowhere near as intense as in Australia, so you can stay out longer without sunscreen. But also, after you’ve spent a long, cold winter trying to get your vitamin D from a 10 minute freezing walk in fog with only your face showing due to all the layers, the second the sun comes out, you want in it. For as long as humanely possible.
How to act like you know exactly what’s going on
After spending so long having no idea what people are saying in German, I’ve learnt to ‘fake it’ pretty good. I can sit in a conversation, making all the right appropriate facial expressions and nods and even laughing in the right places… all the while having absolutely no idea what’s going on. It’s a talent.
That homesickness is incurable
It’s not going to go away. It might decrease in intensity over time, but it’s always going to be there, lurking in the background, ready to spring out and smash you when you’re least expecting it. And unless you know someone in the same position as you, no one else can really understand how you’re feeling. So I just go with it: I realise that some days I’m just going to feel ‘off’, some days I’m going to cry and sometimes I’m just going to need to stop what I’m doing and phone mum and dad.
That making a joke or using sarcasm in English always backfires
It usually happens when you’re not expecting it: Someone drops a glass at a party and you find “Taxi” coming out of your mouth. And hopefully you’ve said it quietly enough that no one hears, otherwise you get weird looks and questions. And don’t even try to explain. Inevitably these things just confuse people – they might eventually ‘get’ what you’re trying to say, but it won’t be funny by this point. Same goes for sarcasm. Just avoid it. People don’t even realise you’re being sarcastic.
How to offer slippers when people come over
When people visit, they will take their shoes off when they enter your house/apartment. This is standard. No one wears shoes inside here. And so it’s polite to have a stash of slippers (usually those semi-disposable ones from hotels) that you can offer your guests so their socked feet don’t get cold on winter nights.
That cars get stupidly dirty in the winter
In the ice/snow/fog of winter, naturally the cars can get a little bit dirty. The thing is, I didn’t actually really quite how dirty they can get. The front and back windscreens are ok because you have wipers, but the rest… you can’t see out the side windows and most numberplates are basically wiped out! In Austria in winter, it takes 1 minute to fill your car up in with petrol, and an extra 3 minutes to scrub your windows and lights down so your car is roadworthy again.
How to eat sweet things in the morning
Austrians just love their early morning, high carb, high sugar snacks. Pastries of all kinds are very common, along with the all-Austrian Krapfen. Krapfen are basically Austrian donuts – imagine a donut filled with apricot jam, slightly less sweet than a standard one, slightly more doughy, and dusted with icing sugar. They’re nothing on a hot jam donut, but I have to say that I’ve found myself saying yes more and more to random sweet snacks brought around in the office between 8 and 8:30am.