It’s not like I expected the Austrians to be little green aliens. But, as I walked off of the plane in Vienna, Austria, I did expect some kind of culture shock. However, besides being surrounded by German chatter, which four semesters of German had prepared me for, I wasn’t particularly overwhelmed by many cultural differences.
Looking back now, I can say that my assumed definition of culture shock was completely inaccurate.
My initial expectation what that everything would be completely backwards and I wouldn’t know my left from my right. Having been here for a bit, I now understand that culture shock can be a culmination of little experiences and encounters that slowly become a part of everyday life abroad.
So, without further ado, some of the little things that, personally, made Vienna so… foreign!
Coffee here is considered a delicacy and, though it’s an option to buy a “to-go” coffee, it’s far more common to sit down and enjoy a warm mug in the café itself. Almost every corner has a different and unique café, where it is completely acceptable to buy one cup of coffee and sit for hours. For those seeking a little piece of America, Starbucks can also be found in largely tourist-populated areas.
One must always stand on the right side of the escalator. If one stands in the middle or on the left, those climbing the steps in a hurry will push her to the side, with a polite, but slightly annoyed, “Entschuldigung.” There are even signs at both ends of the escalators stating, “Bitte rechts stehen” meaning “Please stand to the right.”
While jeans and cardigans are still part of the norm, tank tops and leggings are not as widely accepted as they are in the U.S. The Viennese, from what I’ve noticed, tend to be more conservative in the way they dress, always pairing a lower cut shirt with a scarf and wearing leggings as though they were tights, often with longer shirts or dresses. However, sweatpants and running shorts, completely acceptable to wear to class in a U.S. college town, are virtually nonexistent outside of the realm of exercise here.
The graffiti that I’ve experienced in Vienna should more realistically be called Street-Art. Whereas in the US, it usually includes vulgar terms and symbols, graffiti here tends to encompass a personal view or an abstract idea. Thus, instead of being covered up and washed away, most graffiti is accepted as just another part of everyday life.
While smoking in most public places, such as restaurants and university buildings, is illegal in Indiana, smoking in Vienna is a part of everyday life. It is common on main streets to pass clouds of cigarette smoke or for someone to hurry past you, cigarette in hand. In fact, most restaurants have a smoking section that encompasses the entire outside patio and cigarette dispensers are included on most public trash cans.
This is one of the biggest differences that I’ve found between the two countries.
In the train stations in Vienna, there are no gates or entry/exit areas. Instead, passengers are expected to buy a day, week, or month pass and enter directly into the station. Aside from random ticket-checks, the Viennese public transportation is completely based on an honor system.
Once on the public transportation, the social etiquette is also different. While casual conversations are a normal occurrence on public transportation in the U.S., these conversations would cause other passengers to stare on the otherwise quiet public transportation in Vienna. For Americans, the combination of speaking loudly and speaking in English on trains or buses can make them stick out like a sore thumb.
Many of these differences may not be as prominent, depending on where one grew up in the United States. However, as someone who was born and raised in Indiana, it was these little differences that caused me to stop and reconsider where I was and where I’d come from.