So, one of many observable things in Austria is the difference between what is and isn't publically accepted, both in real life and in my schools. So... let's begin. Disclaimer: not trying to offend anyone, these are just my ramblings.
Cigarettes: as a non-smoker, this activity makes zero sense to me. I mean, look at the negative side effects: expensive, gross cough, other diseases including deathly ones, smelly clothes, bad teeth... aside from a small, temporary head buzz, there are no benefits! However, people in Austria smoke all the time! At my fancy dinner last week, after the second course, ALL the students left for a smoke (or at least, to be with the smokers).... yet none of the adults did. Herr Gutmayer commented that he thought it was ridiculous that they all had to go smoke, but clearly the kids weren't in trouble! They are all of smoking age (16... though it might be 14?). Another time, a teacher told me that she's having problems with her students because they want to go on a 'Language Week' to London, but since they are doing a homestay, they can't smoke all week... as a result, the students don't want to go. Their teacher, however, told me 'I KNOW that they'll smoke no matter what, I just can't tell them that it's OKAY for them to smoke at these homes – why can't they figure it out!?' Interesting. Anyway, I think America, or at least the Northwest, has Europe beat on this one.
Alcohol: this topic is much less black and white for me. In theory, imagine how great the world could be without alcohol! People would be healthier, would learn how to interact better socially, would save money, would do less stupid things. But alcohol is a real component of society in most cultures, especially Western. Not that Austria/Germany (don't tell them I'm clumping them together, they'd hate it!) is really the lederhosen-wearing, beer stein-drinking ideal that some movies make it out to be, but it is commonly found. I had an interesting discussion with Rene, the new Austrian director for the Salzburg program. He mentioned that he doesn't see why students shouldn't be allowed beer or wine in the Center (which they are), and that it's completely normal for Austrians to have a beer with dinner... but he cannot support excessive drinking in any way. So, that's a 30 year old's opinion for you. I think it is logical. Anyway, I want to get back to the topic of WHY we drink. I don't support people saying 'man, I was so drunk last night, I did this stupid thing' because really, it was stupid, and maybe you shouldn't be forgiven just because you got yourself into this child-like mindset. There is something comforting about having a drink to 'loosen your tongue', so to speak, and I am very aware of this since I am often socially uncomfortable! But what if I just had to suck it up and talk to people without the use of some modifier? Would it be okay for me to still be out at the bar? Could I do it without judging people for their drinking? Not that I'm proposing that I'll stop drinking, because sometimes I really do like the taste of beer or wine, but I think that society has seriously figured out how to brainwash everyone into thinking that drinking is cool. Not that it'd be the first time society has brainwashed us... Also, another note, my students DRINK wine in school. Not just talk about it, but become wine connoisseurs. Somalier, if you will. Living in Krems aka Wine Capital A.U.T., they have to know how to make wine, taste wine, sell wine, etc. It's pretty crazy, considering I know next to nothing about wine. Anyway, talk about reinforcing drinking habits.
Nudity: Walking to the subway station, I pass at least 3 posters of somewhat naked women. Not doing anything scandalous, but getting a massage or a vacation thing or whatever else. It's normal here to see nude art and not make fun of it like we did when we were 7. The nudes are almost always women though... I wonder what it does to the developing teenage girl to see attractive, naked women everywhere! You never see ugly naked women, or naked men for that matter. It's definitely... different. But don't fret, my students still have to cover themselves completely, more than we did in high school (they let us get away with those little cheerleading skirts? Really?).
Drugs: Again, talking to Rene, he described how vehemently opposed to marijuana most Austrians are. He studied criminal psychology, and was talking about how by smoking, you reduce your ability to make rational decisions. Also, they punish anyone associated with drugs much more than they would in the U.S. I heard this and thought, oh yes, that does make sense Austria! If it's really affecting the long-term, it probably should be condemned. But then I get on msn.com and read that they might be legalizing marijuana completely in California! What a contrast. I understand it is part of the Californian economy, but.... well, I don't know, I am not really informed enough on the topic to give my opinion. But I do know that all of my students say that America has a lot more drug use than Austria, and I'd say that's probably true – especially for drug use on a regular basis, not that I'm familiar with the opium dens of Vienna like Fr. Art feared I would find, but people who do any drugs here seem to do it in a much more isolated situation.
Aaanyway. Things are different in Austria. Surprise!