To celebrate my 100th blog post (yay) I thought I’d attempt to answer a question I still get asked a lot: What are the real differences between Austria and Australia? And it’s a difficult one to answer, because it’s a kind of same/same but different thing – all the little factors weigh up to create a big difference.
There are the obvious ones – the language, the food, the location, the culture, the weather… I’m not going to focus on those… I’m going to let you in on some of the more subtle differences between Austria and Australia.
- Two Letters
Yep, just two letters. Austr(al)ia.
- Foil over cling wrap
They use foil to cover EVERYTHING, and cling wrap infrequently. Upon opening the fridge, I will find up to 8 plates or parcels covered in foil. And given I can’t see through it, I have to open every one until I find what I’m looking for. And then if I’m microwaving… I have to remove the foil and add a lid! Why, people, why?
- The speed limit
Driving on the autobahn here means 130k/h. With the exception of the middle of the desert in Australia, speed is usually capped at 100. 130km/h seems very fast at the start, but once you get used to it, even slowing to 100 to go through a tunnel seems snail-paced!
- The price of alcohol
Beer anyone? 50c. A bottle of table wine for a casual night in – €3.99 thanks. A glass of wine in a standard restaurant – usually between €1.80 and €2.20. Alcohol prices in Austria are phenomenally cheap. And if you go direct to a farmer or winery… it’s even cheaper – they don’t put a premium on food and drinks for going to the source – which actually makes sense.
- Ghost drivers
Sure, occasionally you get people in Oz driving on the wrong side of the road, but here in Austria it happens almost EVERY DAY on the Autobahn… and yes, everyone is driving 130km/h! They call them Ghost Drivers and can involve anyone from drunks to suicidals to older, confused people or just someone making a mistake in a complicated on-ramp situation. I hope I never see one.
- Not a spider
In Australia, it’s normal to figure that that any random bit of black caught out of the corner of one’s eye is most probably a spider. Here, that is not the case – it’s much more likely to be a chunk of dirt or a snarl of cotton. Sure, there are spiders here but they are so small and cute! Knowing that a huntsman will never crawl across my windscreen while driving is very reassuring… though to be fair, I would rather see that than a Ghost Driver!
- Writing on squares
Their note pads all seem to be filled with tiny squares instead of lines. Interesting.
- Keep to the right
Australia is in the minority with their driving on the left stance. But keeping to the right here is not only limited to driving – it also applies when walking, standing on escalators, swimming etc. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bumped into someone because I instinctively moved the wrong way in a crowd.
- Four seasons
In Austria there are actually four seasons. They are very distinct and all have their own quirks. In Austria, you actually need a winter wardrobe, which is so bulky it usually ends up living in the cellar over Summer.
And on the subject of cellars, a house here is not complete without one. Often, it’s the same size as the actual house, and could include things like a ‘drying room’ (the room where the heater lives), a laundry, a party room, a work/exercise room… the list goes on.
- You have to pack your own groceries
I’m not sure if this has changed in Australia now, but here your groceries just get shoved at high speed across the scanner with you furiously catching them and putting them in bags or in the trolley yourself. It saves time but it’s a bit stressful to begin with!
- Dinner parties are the wrong way round
When I arrive at someone’s house for dinner in Australia I generally expect to be offered a drink and probably a little something to nibble on while I’m waiting the 30-60ish minutes before dinner is served. You know how it goes.
In Austria it’s the other way round. Expect a drink, naturally, and maybe a few minutes of chatting, but then expect dinner to be served pretty much immediately. What? Where’s my chips? But here’s a secret – often after dinner and dessert… the chips will still come out! It’s weird but I can live with that.
- The grass
…is green. It’s amazingly green… even in summer! Because there is so much water in Austria and the climate is cooler it means no brown, spiky grass to walk on! Ever!
It’s fast, it’s cheap and there’s free wifi everywhere. It’s the connected digital era people, Australia desperately needs to buck up!
- Double glazed windows
Because of the cold climate many of the houses here have double glazed windows. This not only keeps the cold out, it also keeps the noise out. Someone mowing outside? Just shut the window and it’s gone. Bliss!
- Crossing fingers not thumbs
To wish someone luck by crossing your fingers in German you have to say: Ich dreuke dir die Daumen. This translates to: I press my thumbs for you. And they actually do exactly that. They kind of tuck their thumb into their hand. Weird.
- Cleaning out the kettle
But there is a lot of calcium in the water, which means that periodically, you have to ‘anti-Kalk’ your kettle so you don’t get white bits floating in your tea. Yeah, yum!
- The opposite effect
It seems like every other day someone here gets surprised that the seasons are opposing on the other side of the world, as are the summer holidays, the school year, and so on. You may think it’s obvious but people just don’t think about it. They just assume it’s cold at Christmas… for everyone.
In Australia there are only pharmacies, offering a general selection of personal products, plus all your tablets and medications, many of which you can just grab yourself. In Austria these are separated into two different stores. The Apotheke sells everything medical related… from herbal tea, to paracetamol to prescription drugs. Then there are shops like BIPA and dm which sell only personal products (shampoo, hair dye, makeup, sanitary items, baby needs etc.). You can’t even get a basic painkiller there. And don’t think you’ll be able to just pick up your period tablets, haemorrhoid cream or Panadol yourself at the Apotheke – unless it’s herbal, you have to ask the pharmacist for it.
- No gas
I guess I just took my gas appliances for granted in Oz. There are no gas stoves in Austria – everything is electric. Which means that I have had to get used to actually pre-heating the oven before cooking, and making pancakes is a nightmare!
- The water
Austria is full of lakes and rivers. And the difference here is the colour… because except when there’s just been a storm, the rivers run fresh, clean and clear and most are drinkable. There’s no brown swamps or murky Murray here! And the other great thing about the water, there’s so much that there’s no danger of water restrictions!
- Greeting people
The normal way to greet a close friend here is a kiss on both cheeks for women, and a handshake for men. Everyone else gets a handshake. I’m always the awkward one who sticks out my hand as the other person goes for my cheek, or forgets the double kiss and just goes for one, or forgets everything entirely and tries to hug people!
- No trading Sundays
The shops are not open Sundays. None of them. You can grab essentials from the servo, but that’s it. In tourist areas this is different but everywhere else is Just. Not. Open. I actually really like it. It means you have to use the day to relax, spend time outside or simply catch up with friends.
- Main meal at lunch time
In Austria, people eat their biggest meal of the day at lunch time, instead of in the evening. School starts earlier and finishes at lunch time, which means the kids can go home and eat a large meal. While I eat my soup and salad at work, my colleagues all tuck into full meals. I thought about adapting to it, it takes the work out of evening meal preparation, but a big meal for me at lunch just means I want to sleep in the afternoon!
Sure, some people in Austria use them, but it’s not like in Australia where everyone goes by an alternate name. If someone is called Katharina… you should call her by her full name, not Kat. Thomas is rarely Tom and Christoph… yep, don’t call him Chris. There’s no Paddy, Jonno or Bob here!