Things you should know before becoming an exchange student in Austria
This is isn’t as much of a life update as it is a compiled list of things that I’ve really learned in the past 6 months about Austria, the people, culture, and unwritten rules. For months before my great adventure began, I researched as much I could about Austria, as if I could really prepare myself. The things I learned about Austria’s culture and quirks really came from living here in daily life and observing things happening around me. Maybe this informative, slightly sarcastic blog could be useful to the exchange student who just found out they’re coming to Austria, or to the average person who is curious to learn some quirks about the lovely country I now call home.
- The Austrians are not Germans. The Germans are not Austrians.
If you’re looking to make friends and fit in with the Austrians, it would be a bad idea to compare the Austrians to Germans, or worse, refer to the Austrians as Germans. In fact, it’s safe to just completely keep the Germans out of your vocabulary unless they happen to be the butt of a joke. In defense of my Austrian friends and family, they sometimes tell me that deep deep deep deep down, they don’t hate the Germans THAT much.
- The Sound of Music doesn’t exist here.
I’d heard this before I went to Austria, but I thought it was one of those things where every Austrian had seen it, they just didn’t want to admit it. But no. They haven’t even seen the movie. I’ve gotten everything from “It’s called The Sound of Austria or something, right?” to “Oh, is that what all those tour buses in Salzburg are for?” to even “I’ve never heard of it.” from my Austrian family and friends. This means you can still prance around in the alps belting out “THE HILLS ARE ALIIIIIIIIVE”, just don’t expect your host family or Austrian friends to join you.
- Austria is not the place for political correctness.
Political correctness is not much of a thing here. At the beginning of your exchange, it might be a little uncomfortable to hear jokes about race, weight, cultural appropriation, religion, and country/racial stereotypes thrown around like it’s nothing, especially if you’re American and/or political correctness has always been important etiquette for you. However, the Austrians mean nothing bad by these jokes. It’s just a different culture and simply takes time to get used to and accept.
- There’s no 24/7 Walmart here.
As a wise woman once said, “Why does this entire country shut down at 6 PM?” -Alexa Watkin, 2016™
It sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s not that much of a stretch. 24 hour shops don’t exist here, save for a few train station tobacco shops that exist solely for drunk people. Most shops close down between 6 and 7 PM during the week, and aren’t open at all on Sundays. This can be frustrating if you go out of your way to get something from a grocery store or shop that, once you get there, isn’t even open. It definitely takes time to get used to, so make sure to take note of what time and day of the week it is before you decide to go on a shopping adventure. Also, malls here make a big deal of “Late night shopping” as some are open until 9:00 PM once a week. This is a rather normal time for me to be shopping if I was in America, but here in Austria it’s a thrilling adrenaline rush to be in the mall past 7.
- Greeting people is necessary.
Sorry, walking down the street in a small town with your face down and earbuds in just isn’t going to work here. Especially in small towns, it’s really important to greet people as you walk past them, saying “Grüß Gott” (God’s greetings/God bless you). You also say this when walking into stores and restaurants, or basically before any interaction with someone you don’t know. This is very important to Austrians, so it’s a good idea to get into the habit right away.
- Bread will become a very, very, very, very big part of your life. And diet.
I’m not going to pretend to know the reasons behind the Austrians’ bread obsession, but I do know that Austria is no place for you if you’re Gluten-free, or a bread hater. In my first month in Austria, I ate more bread than I’d eaten in my whole life combined. There’s white bread, there’s brown bread, there’s rye bread, there’s special holiday breads, and breads specific to towns and areas. There’s also Semmel, which is possibly the best bread to ever exist. Often lunch is the big meal of the day, and dinner will just be a selection of different breads. Bread is also common for breakfast. Bread is often a part of my Jouse, which is the German word for “mid-day snack break.” If eating bread for breakfast, snack, and dinner isn’t enough for you, never fear! There are bakeries around every corner, in grocery stores, and in train stations.
- Austrian German varies from High German.
When you go on exchange in Austria, you have to be able to accept that not everything you learned in your high school German class or on Duolingo will be useful to you. This requires a lot of listening to the Austrians speak, including the words they use and the way they say them. There are a lot of words Germans say that would get you some weird looks from the Austrians if you used them here. Replace your High German vocabulary with Austrian vocabulary as much as you can – there’s no use using words like Brötchen, Tüte, Sahne, or even Guten Tag. In fact, I had to look some of those words up because I’m only familiar with the Austrian versions of them (Semmel, Sackerl, Schlag, and Grüß Gott, respectively). Basically, follow the rule “When in Austria, do as the Austrians.”
There you have it, folks. I hope you’ve gained a few insights on Austria through the eyes of a sarcastic American exchange student!
Quick disclaimer: Don’t get me wrong on all of this, I absolutely love Austria! I just find it so interesting to experience the differences between Austria and what I’m used to. I’m fascinated with the language, the culture, the food, and the mannerisms. I’m also fascinated with how at first these things seemed so foreign to me, but now they’re second nature and normal as I’ve adjusted to what initially brought me culture shock. And that to me is one of the best, most beautiful things about exchange.