I am back in Austria for a while! The place where I was born and grew up. That does not sound like a big deal at first, but I have been living abroad for 18 years now, and the 7 weeks I am spending here now is the longest stretch of time I have been in Austria since 1998, when I moved to Germany to start my doctoral thesis work.
It’s an extra crass contrast since I spent the last 2 years in the Philippines, which are a great place for a nature lover, and a lot of fun as a country, but kind of on the wild side, definitely different from Euroland. This made the reverse culture shock more interesting as opposed to coming back to Austria from Germany or the US.
A few things caught my attention:
– It’s very organized, affluent and clean. There is really barely any trash on the streets. I saw a dude, a regular passenger in a commuter train, pick up a newspaper which had slid off a seat onto the train floor, and throw it in the trash can. It had bothered him to see even a relatively harmless piece of trash on the floor, in a public place. Last year, my neighbors a few hundred meters from my home in Cebu had an unregulated trash dump next to their house and told me that they didn’t like it, but that’s just the way it is. People in Austria really want the place to be orderly. And the country is so well off: There are relatively few homeless people, and in front of a restaurant or “Heurigen” (wine-bar plus traditional restaurant) you’ll see many Audis, BMWs and Porsches parked. In the malls you’ll have specialty shops selling – for example – only gourmet cooking oils or only exquisite paper for art & calligraphy. Only a pretty rich population can sustain such shops. People in Austria, on average, are not struggling financially, I have the impression.
– There are so many signs telling people what to do and what not to do, and that this footpath will not be cleared from snow in the winter, and that you are not allowed to lean your bicycle against that wall, ect… Very striking when coming from the Philippines where you usually can’t do anything dangerous or anti-social, but you definitely have no rules where to lean your bicycle against.
– The food is really good! And the beer! I like the San Miguel beer in the Philippines, but it’s always the same. In Austria there are so many different and tasty beers.
– There are so many fat people here. I wonder if that is connected to the last point? Sometimes when I am walking upstairs in the public transport system, I don’t even want to look up for the fear of sighting an ultra-large ass. It’s not a pretty sight, just a meter or so before your face. Even really young people are quite big sometimes.
– There is more nice nature than I remember. I vividly remember moving to California for the 1st time in the mid-90s, and thinking “wow! These coastlines! These deserts! So much unspoiled nature here!”. Austria is smaller, and you won’t find any of these vast stretches of land devoid of human settlement, like in the western US or in Australia. But outside of the cities, in the countryside in-between the agricultural land, Austria has some really nice spots. The southern flank of the Alps in Carinthia, where my grandma lives, is supremely pretty. I swam in a lake and looked up to a 2000plus meter Alpine peak. The east of Austria, the Burgenland near the Hungarian border, is flat and warm, with big skyes. Right at the border lies a very large but shallow lake (Lake Neusiedel) with a great bird fauna.
– What about all of the refugees who came to Austria recently? I’ll write about that next week!