By this summer, I will have been in Austria on and off for almost two years. Vienna has become my home; I have got used to the calm, relaxed lifestyle combined with the regular and reliable transport system. In fact, because I have become so comfortable here, there are now a number things I have to get used to again every time I return to the UK.
Considering that I am currently in the process of applying for new jobs which could possibly mean a move back to Britain (or if I get kicked out eventually due to Brexit…) I thought it would be fun to take note of everything I will have to get my head around once again!
- Pillows. Yes, seriously, the pillows. I remember the day I got here and looked at the
bedding I had been provided with wondering; “Why is the pillow so giant?” As I lay down I felt like my head was sinking and could not get comfortable for ages. Yet, over time I became used to flipping it (which I now do subconsciously) every few hours for maximum comfort. When I go back to the UK, I now have the opposite problem. “What is it with their measly, rock hard pillows?” Turns out I now quite like sleeping on a cloud.
- Plug sockets. Again, another major first world problem. Here in Europe (by which I mean, not the UK because it’s the exception to pretty much every European norm), if I plug my phone into a socket, it starts charging instantly. I cannot count the number of times when I have been back in either England or Scotland, that I have plugged my phone into a socket and woken up to find that it’s dead. Why? Because I forgot to turn it on at the switch. I understand this is better for the environment; that at least if something is plugged in and turned off ‘at the wall’ then there’s no power, but I am I really going to have to start checking more!
- Debit cards. When I was smaller I used think one of the signs you could be classed
an adult was the day you got a credit card. Well, ladies and gentleman, according to my ten year old mind set, I’ve made it big time! I went and got myself a swanky credit card. Why? Because Austrian debit cards do not allow you to pay online. Last year I went to the effort of transferring money onto a travel money post office card every time I needed to purchase something from Amazon or book a flight somewhere. Realising this was taking more time than it was worth, I ended up just opening a credit account with my bank. This has saved a lot of time, but now I just need to remember that when I use my UK bank card online it comes out of my account instantly!
- Service at restaurants. This one comes up a lot in blogs and posts about the Viennese lifestyle. In the UK, a lot of servers are young people and students. They work long hours for minimum wage and go over and above what’s required of them in order to receive a tip on the side. Sometimes it restaurants, in particularly those in a chain, it can feel as if they want to get you in, then get you out as fast as possible. Here in Austria’s capital, servers get paid a living wage and are not necessarily working for tips. They will always be welcomed, but unlike in the UK they are not trying to go out of their way in order to receive it. In fact, service here to many people visiting from the UK and America can feel particularly slow. Don’t expect a get in, get out situation in any Viennese cafe or restaurant because that is just not their policy. It’s all about taking time to relax and chill. In fact, if I feel like taking a book or my laptop in with me and spending most of the day there, they probably won’t even bat an eyelid except to check if you need anything every hour or so. If you are thinking about just ‘popping in’ to a cafe for a quick cappuccino here in Vienna, think again. If you have to be somewhere later, consider heading out for that coffee or brunch date with friends earlier than you need. I can’t imagine sitting in a coffee shop in the UK for hours on end, except possibly in Starbucks. I have grown used to waiting for my bill, up to fifteen minutes after asking for it on one occasion, and the Viennese coffee house culture will definitely be missed.
- Water with coffee. Speaking of coffee shops, one of my favourite things about the Viennese coffee culture is the fact that it is always served with a glass of water and sometimes even served on a silver tray. Talk about fancy! If I want a glass of water with my coffee in the UK, I have to ask for it and that’s just one extra thing your server has to bring you. Remind me whenever I’m in the UK to ask for it at the same time as ordering my coffee.
- Public transport. Vienna has one of the best public transport systems I have ever seen. Your Ubahn is a seven minute wait? Wow, that’s a long time. People will often run to make the one on the platform even though it really is going to be about six minutes until the next one (and this is for the big wait times, chances are when you reach the platform your ubahn is only about 3 minutes away). The UK does have some cities with good transport systems too, but the one thing this city has over any others I have been to or lived in, is just how well it copes with weather. The UK has a running joke that if there is a leaf on the line, that’s you late for work that day. Austria could have a foot of snow, yet the roads and lines are cleared in no time and everything carries on as normal. I really do not know what the Viennese would consider a legitimate excuse for delays in their transport system, but the only time my ubahn has not actually showed up at all was when there was a fire at one of the stations, and people were still annoyed they weren’t going to get home on time. I guess that says a lot! It is such a big change to the transport system I grew up with in a small village where you were lucky if the bus showed up at all and if it did it was usually late and cost about six pounds for a single journey. If a city has a good transport system, I always enjoy my time there so much more and it’s one of the factors I will now take into consideration when I move to somewhere new.
- Multiple shops for multiple purchases. Say you need groceries. You’ll get them in Billa. Oh, but then you need shampoo. That’ll be a trip to Bipa. Have a headache and need paracetamol. Head to the apotheke (pharmacy). Fancy treating yourself to
a new shirt for drinks on Friday? Yep that’s a separate trip to a clothes store. Here in Vienna, and in many other cities too, there’s no one shop wonder. No Tescos or Wallmart that’s for sure. If you need multiple items, you need to head to multiple shops. I never thought I’d take Tescos for granted, until I returned to the UK after seven months and realised I could get everything, from snacks to clothes, birthday cards to DVDS, magazines to medicine all in the same place as where I could do a groceries shop. Heck, you could buy a brand new hoover or TV and then head down the freezer aisle to pick up something for tonight’s dinner! Amazing! When it comes to reverse culture shock, this is just one of the major positives of heading back to the UK.
- Crossing the street. I will let you into a secret. I have lived in Vienna for about a year and a half and I’m still not 100% sure how to cross the street. I could be stood waiting to cross with no cars or bikes in sight, yet I feel the need to wait until the red light changes to green. That’s just what they do here. They wait. You’ll get the occasional rebel, who will look both ways to see if there is anything coming then make a sprint across, but people don’t break the rules when it comes to crossing the road here. Then when the light does change to green and I have been waiting for what feels like an eternity for cars to pass (or not pass on some occasions), I go and a car starts to turn down the road I’m walking across. It’s one of the things I just cannot get used to and even though I know they’ll wait for the pedestrians to pass in front of their vehicle, I still find myself panicking and making a run for it to the other side. In the UK, if people think they can make it to the other side in time, even if it’s a red light, they’ll go for it and I look like the idiot still standing on the pavement.
- Smoking. Austria was supposed to be bringing in a total smoking ban in May this year, but now that looks as if that’s not going to happen. Smoking is
extremely common in most cafes and restaurants here in Vienna and whilst some have smoking rooms, it is still extremely hard to avoid (especially in the places that you have to walk through the smoking areas to get to the non-smoking areas; yes, that really is a thing). As someone who remembers when the smoking ban in the UK came into force (Scotland was the first country in the UK to ban smoking in public places), it is the thing that I cannot get used to the most. There’s nothing like spending time getting ready for an evening out, to come home stinking of cigarette smoke. It’s so hard to get the smell of it out of your hair and your clothes; I’m pretty sure I have a leather jacket packed away somewhere that still smells faintly of cigarettes. It’s the thing I love the most about the UK and reassures me that our government can at least make some good decisions!
- The language. The thing I find the hardest to get used to in terms of the language, is that I just don’t understand what people are saying. Now surely that’s obvious; when I return to the UK, yes everything’s in english and in Austria it is not. However, I phrase this as a positive. In Vienna, because I don’t understand what everyone is saying all of the time, I find myself distracted less often by other people. If someone walks onto the tram speaking English, it’s like hearing a foghorn. Suddenly I can’t just stare out of the window or concentrate on what I’m reading because all I can hear is them. Back in the UK, I now find it really hard to tune out people’s conversations on public transport or in shopping centres. If they’re talking about something I disagree with, I spend the whole time annoyed I can’t voice my opinion (because I’m still terribly British and that goes against our nature). If I’m reading a book on the tram in Vienna as I often do and everyone around me is speaking German, no matter what they’re talking about, whether it be religion, politics or just every day chit chat, it doesn’t bother me because I don’t understand them anyway.
No matter how many differences there is between Austria and Britain, both positives and negatives, I now class both of them as home. Some things are hard to get used to, some things are just plain ridiculous, but doing this move from Britain to Austria has taught me that the next time I decide to move to a new country, I can embrace the cultural differences and maybe even see the funny side of them too.