Monday, June 13, 2011

Saying Goodbye in Austria

This blog post could be very sentimental, sadly recognizing all the things I'll miss about Austria, (Knödel, Gemütlichkeit, teaching... to name a few) but I've decided instead to focus on the actual language involved in goodbyes. So, here goes:

Germans and Austrians have a curious tendency to LOVE greetings. Rarely do they use less than two. In stores or restaurants, perhaps just a simple "Tschüss" or "Wiedersehen" will suffice, but with friends or even acquaintances, one shows a level of affection by racking up numerous goodbyes. It's kind of like teenagers in love on the telephone ("You hang up!" "No, you hang up!").

Here are all the ways I can think of:
Tschüss! (bye)
Auf Wiedersehen! (until next time we see each other!)
Auf Wiederschauen! (until next time we see each other! in Austria)
Tschau!/Ciao! (ciao - obvious?)
Servus! (means both hello and goodbye, like aloha)
Baba! (derived from bye bye)
Pfierdi! (straight-up (Lower?) Austrian)
Auf Wiederhören! (used on the phone)
Bussi! (also mainly used on the phone... since it means kisses, it is kind of is weird in person)

English doesn't provide as many options. In fact, I can think of just a few: (Good) bye, talk to you later, see you later. Do these chronic goodbyers feel limited in my language? I think so! I once received a phone call from a woman I tutor, who left me a message in English. At the end of her message, she said a rather uncomfortable "Talk to you later. Bye! Bye-bye!", which made me laugh.

Well, that's it. I leave Austria tomorrow at 11:50 AM, and don't know when I'll be back. I do believe I'll be back someday though... at least for a vacation. It's been a long, fast, learning-experience-full, fun, stressful, growing year. I look forward to being somewhere where I can usually feel comfortable, while also looking forward to recognizing how I'm different from this year.

Tschüss! Baba! Wiedersehen! Servus! Pfierdi! Bussi! 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Weltner World Tour 2011


Yep, that's right, my brother came to Austria. It's been pretty sweet to show him around my life here. I mean, if no one else experiences it, it's almost like it's not real, right?

I'm in a castle!!
One of the silliest part of this trip has been what I like to call  "Weltners on Bikes". For those who don't know, I learned to ride a bike when I was 20. Matt has also never been a big bike rider, so putting the pair of us on bicycles makes for some strange times. On his second day here, I dragged Matt on a bike ride from Krems to Dürnstein, because he demanded that he see a castle while in Austria. Dürnstein housed Richard the Lionheart when Duke Leopold V of Austria captured him on his return from the Crusades in 1192. So, it's a pretty legit castle, even though all that remains is ruins.

Obviously to classify our trip as a "world tour", we had to go international. We decided Budapest, Hungary would be our second destination, so on Tuesday we took an early bus over there. Highlights of our Budapest visit:
  • The baths! Budapest is home to many natural springs, and we took advantage of one of baths, Szechenyi, for a full afternoon. We both had our first professional massages (and agreed they were weird), and also managed to dip our feet into all of the 18 different pools (including the very sulfur-y and very hot or cold).
  • Drinking from the "natural spring" of wine
  • Labyrinth - The hills in Buda are full of caves, which have been used for storage, transportation and safety. These days, however, they mostly function as tourist traps. We visited a labyrinth we had heard a lot about between 6 and 7 PM, when the lights were turned off and we were given lanterns. The whole thing was pretty kitschy, with spooky sounds and rattling chains and the whole shebang. The end however, was so weird. We stumbled across an "ancient" shoeprint from the Homo Consumus, followed by a huge Coke bottle fossil. Then, there were the exhibits of "recovered" artifacts, like a microphone, protractor, cell phone... etc. Finally, we turned a corner where the devil was giving a speech predicting the end of the world due to this Homo Consumus. The basic message I got was that at the rate that we consume, we too will perish. I mean, I get that people get upset about these things, but I just paid to get into your labyrinth... someone's making money off of this, don't hate me!
  • View from the Liberty Statue - After a couple long days of walking, we forced ourselves up another hill of Buda to see the sunset from the Liberty Statue. After getting lost in some neighborhoods, we were rewarded with a fantastic view of the city - totally worth it.
Budapest from the Liberty Statue
Anyway, we've also done a lot of things in Vienna, mostly my favorite things:
Café Central - tastebud overload!
  • Falafel and free samples at the Naschmarkt 
  • Coffee and Philgood Frühstück at Phil
  • Coffee and breakfast at Café Europa
  • Coffee and cake at Café Central (are you seeing a trend? Matt was really bad for the caffeine addiction I thought I'd overcome!)
  • A Tchaikovsky opera, Eugene Onegin, at the opera house (gettin' classy!)
  • Run in Schönbrunn
  • And lots and lots and lots of walking....

In other news, I leave for Seattle in 36 HOURS.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Lesson in Lessons.

Me: Which president was the first president born in a hospital? A. Abraham Lincoln, B. Jimmy Carter, C. Barack Obama or D. George Bush, Sr.
Student: Nick Carter.
Me: Whose ashes are located in a lake in California? A. Gandhi, B. Martin Luther King, Jr. C. Abraham Lincoln or D. Marilyn Monroe?
Same student: Marilyn Manson.

Oh, goodness.

Well, it looks like my teaching career is over (at least for the moment - I have no idea what I'll be doing in 3 years...). I really, really enjoyed myself and I think, most of the time, the students did too! But I thought it would be interesting to highlight some of the lessons I taught, for old time's sake. These are the ones that I enjoyed and/or I thought the students liked. I may be completely wrong about that.
  • Native Americans and whaling in the Makah tribe
  • American government system
  • Seattle (especially tourism in Seattle)
  • Globalization 
  • Idioms!
  • Fun facts about America (followed by fun facts about Austria, which I loooved)
  • Debates on nuclear energy
  • Nutrition aka Americans aren't all fat
  • Slang/Rap music in America
  • Jobs/Job interviews (someday knowing how to interview for a garbage man position could come in handy, right?)

And what about some that did not go so well?
  • Facebook (tried to create a wall-to-wall... it was weird)
  • Diner Talk! (Adam and Eve = spare ribs,etc)
  • Political parties in America (if it's not Obama, they don't care.)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Things I Didn't Expect to Learn

My time here is running out. 4 days, in fact. FOUR DAYS, really!? I can count that on one hand! Bah! Anyway, my brother has been here to help me from getting too sentimental, but I still think it's good to sit back and reflect a bit.

I've learned a lot this year. I've learned how to be a better teacher, I've learned more German, I've learned how to maximize hours and hours of freetime... but there are plenty of things I learned that I did not at all expect to learn. Some of them, frankly, I wish I hadn't learned.

  • die Umleitung - On my solo bike ride from Krems to Melk (36 km) I kept passing these signs that said Umleitung with an arrow. Of course I didn't really think about it and kept going straight on the path that I knew. After running into construction sights at least 3 times, being yelled at and confused by some Austrian workers, I finally realized that maybe there was some way I should have known to go around this sight. A-ha moment! Umleitung = detour. 
  • die Geldbörse - I am superstitious about my wallets. A few summers ago, I had an unlucky wallet that I kept forgetting places. And this year, when I switched to a new wallet, I kept forgetting it at the same place: at home. One morning I managed to get to the train station 30 minutes away before realizing I was wallet-less, and then the next day I didn't realize I had forgotten my wallet until after ringing up an entire bag of groceries. During these processes, I embarrassingly said the phrase "Ich habe meine Geldbörse vergessen!" (I forgot my wallet) about 4 times, which entails that I will probably never forget that word.
  • Waltzing (and marching!) - Back in January, a friend of mine invited me to attend the Technische Universität Ball. As a part of this, we got free dancing lessons, including the traditional Austrian waltz. Anyway, Joe and I whirled and waltzed with the best of them. I have to figure out how to make waltzing cool in America... it's so fun, and not hard!
  • Things about the US - I've taught a lot of lessons about America this year, and along the way learned some strange things. Examples:
    • The biggest Native American tribe is the Sioux, with 11,000 people
    • There are more 3x more cows than people in the US
    • Great Smokey National Park is the #9 most visited tourist site in the US (I'd never heard of it)
    • There has only been one unmarried US President (James Buchanan)
    • There are really alligators in Alabama (thanks Laura Smith!)
  • How to drive a manual/die Kupplung - My friend Bianca was once kind enough to let me try to drive her stickshift. I killed it a couple times, but I guess that happens. Anyway, after having her scream some German at me while I panicked, I don't think I'll ever forget what Kupplung (clutch) or Bremse (brake) mean. 
  • How to kill 3+ hours of time, daily - This is probably the most practical lesson I've learned all year. Like I've said before, I commute about 3 hours a day to and from Vienna. What do I do to not go crazy? Read, write, listen to Childish Gambino and sleep. Done.
  • der Vokuhila - There's a free newspaper available in Austria, called Heute (=today). With one reading of this paper, you'll recognize that it's obviously of the very highest quality. For example, one time I learned that a beloved Easter bunny had been stolen from a nearby town. Anyway, this paper provides me with some interesting vocabulary. On the cover one day was a picture of Brad Pitt and the word "Vokuhila!!". This, I learned was an abbrevation for "vorne kurz, hinten lang" (short in front, long in back). Yes, Vokuhila means mullet. Considering the extreme amount of mullets visible in Austria, I'm surprised it took me this long to learn that word.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why German?

As most people know, German isn't really a "necessary" language. Frankly, I could survive in this country with just a handful of phrases, because most speak at least a little bit of English. German is rarely (if ever?) the only language someone in the United States speaks, and generally, someone who speaks German and English could probably do a better translation than I can.

So why have I studied this language for 8+ years?!

Let's go back in time. I can remember my first run in with German, which was through a friend named Stefanie in 6th grade. Her parents had lived in Germany when she was younger, so she taught me useful phrases like "Gesundheit" and "Dummkopf" (bless you and stupid head, respectively).
Two years later, we had to decide what language we wanted to study in high school; I believe that this decision changed the course of my life. Basically, I didn't want to study Japanese because it looked too hard, I didn't want to study Spanish because it was the language all the stupid people took (sorry, I was 13) and I didn't want to study French because the girls in the class were mean. So... German it was! I don't really remember much about my first 2 years of high school German except cooking Apfelkuchen once a semester, teaching ourselves "Wir alle wohnen an ein Gelbunterseeboot" (we all live on a yellow submarine.. or something like that) and kids being sent out of class to go to the principal. But I had time in my schedule, so I kept taking it.

When I was 17, I spent a month living in Kiel (north Germany). This month.... was... hard for me! I had never spent so much time away from home, and I realize now that I wasn't really ready to appreciate the differences in our cultures. Plus, I was afraid to make mistakes, and really hardly spoke German at all. So, I spent a lot of the month feeling like I couldn't communicate. It was disheartening. For some reason though, I kept learning German. German classes at Lake Washington HS got even more ridiculous. By the time I was in 4th year German, I was the only student at my level in a classroom of 30 kids at 3 different levels. Basically, I napped in the back, flirted with the 3rd year students and didn't really learn any German. Sorry Frau Taylor.

When college came around, I was automatically signed up for German classes at the University of Portland. I can remember feeling panicked when they placed me in a 301 German class. I got my first ever B in a German class that year. German, however, opened doors for me: I got to go study in Salzburg my sophomore year! By this point, I realized I was good at German if I tried, and so I kept trying, and getting better! My friends all spoke German and it became my favorite class at UP, where we could get nerdy and laugh at jokes that other people didn't understand. I fondly remember writing German papers, because the language is logical, and there is always a correct way to write it. I love that about German. Also, Germany and Austria have fascinating histories. How could I not be interested in learning more about the Holocaust?!

These days, my German isn't perfect (it probably never will be) but I can communciate really well, and can be nearly perfect if you give me a second to think about it. It's strange to think that my time learning German could be over. I don't know where life will take me or whether I will be able to use German much in the future, but it would be nice.

My favorite German sentence (if you were curious): Es gibt einen Löffel in die Geschirrspülmaschine in Schleswig-Holstein!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Semi-Retired Kind of Life

For those of you that don't know, I work a maximum of 13 hours a week. Considering I teach in around 30 classrooms of students roughly the same ages, my lesson planning (especially lately) adds less than an hour a week to that already grueling schedule.

In other words, I am semi-retired. Clearly my four years of university have made me deserve this laid-back lifestyle, right? And I believe that Austria, as a whole, is also semi-retired, so this is a great place for me to be.

There's a great German term that has occasionally be used in English: Gemütlichkeit. According to Wikipedia, its connotation is "the notion of belonging, social acceptance, cheerfulness, the absence of anything hectic and the opportunity to spend quality time." Basically, this is the Austrian lifestyle, particularly outside of Vienna. It seems to me that retired people in America finally take the time to try to attain these goals, but many of us over-worked, stressed-out Americans have no idea how to chill out.

Bench in the middle of a apricot tree grove
So what does Austria do that makes it so different? To begin with, Austria has a minimum of 25 vacation days, along with 13 public holidays. I’ve heard that often these public holidays on Tuesdays or Thursdays create a convenient Fenstertag (window/bridge day) so they can extend their weekends into 4+ day beasts. In comparison, Americans only glean one Fenstertag out of the year (can you think of what it is?). Also, Americans only take an average 12 vacation days a year, with 10 public holidays.

Despite all these holidays, Austrians are not lazy; most work approximately 40 hours a week. It’s common to start the day around 7 so as to create longer afternoons, or, I believe, to allow themselves time for a longer lunch. As lunch is the main meal of the day, it’s generally taken quite seriously. Many restaurants offer a 3-course meal for lunch for just 5 or 6 euro. I have often caught my school’s principal (and other teachers) enjoying a glass of wine with his lunch at my school’s restaurant, something that wouldn’t exactly fly in American public schools.

Bench looking at the Danube
Something I have noticed recently in Austria is the abundance of benches. They are scattered throughout the countryside, placed in the middle of fields or directly facing a brick wall. Why are there so many!? I can only guess that Austrians get tired very easily, or are often overwhelmed by their thoughts and need to sit down.

Schools are a great place to witness Gemütlichkeit. Many of my colleagues are taking part in or preparing for their sabbatical year, by working additional hours now or receiving only half-pay for this year. It’s a concept that I have only ever witnessed in universities in the States, and even then, you are expected to DO something during that time. A woman I tutor is on her sabbatical year and spends her time babysitting her grandchildren, reading, taking dancing lessons with her husband, and practicing her English and Italian. That sounds like a great retired lifestyle to me.

Anyway, as the year draws to an end (3 weeks!), I find myself worrying about what life will be like back in the States. I’m going to start working 40 hours a week two days after I return home… when will I have time to read books, nap, cook elaborate meals and gather my thoughts sitting on a park bench!?

Bench in the middle of nowhere near Mürzzuschlag

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Go Read a Book!

Today, while innocently preparing some students for their upcoming oral English exam, we had a conversation which went like this:

Me: So, if you were only going to read a book one time, would you rather buy a (more expensive) hardcover book or a (cheaper) paperback?
Student: I would purchase a hardcover book.
Me: Okay... Why?
Student: Because then I could put it on my... er... shelf. It would be the book I bought in 2011.
Me: But... would you read it?
Student: Uhm... maybe...

Upon further questioning, I found out that these kids DON'T READ. I'm serious! I asked the group when the last time they read a book for fun was, and they couldn't remember! What is happening to the world? I can remember the days when I would get in trouble for reading my book in class. Ask my mother; I was a real bookworm as a kid. I still am, frankly. Not to brag, but I've read 26 books since October - granted, I have a lot more freetime than my students, but still! Not one book is memorable to them? I was shocked, but then I thought about it, and realized that I have never seen any of my students with their noses in a novel, be it at school or on the train. What is going on!?

To help myself understand, I've made a list of possible reasons why they don't read books.

  1. They're barbarians, and Mama din't learn dem how 2 read good.
  2. The group of students I talked to are a poor sample of the rest of the student population, and the rest of the students do actually read.
  3. They really don't have much free time. This was the excuse they told me, but I know that they have free time to "make party", among other things, so why not have some free time to read a book!?
  4. Not as many books are available in German as in English. There are of course less German-speaking people in the world, and not all English books are translated into German. With a reduced selection, perhaps German-speakers struggle a bit more to find books that pique their interest?
  5. (I think this is the biggest one) These students are part of a generation which grew up around the internet. They are only 4-5 years younger than me, but I myself can barely remember a time before the internet, so I'm sure they don't at all. The internet can provide constant stimulation, allowing the students to access thousands of free movies and TV shows, while also allowing them to know up-to-the-minute information about their friends and the whole world. With such limitless, easy entertainment options, why would anyone curl up with a boring old book?
It's a pity, really. I want to read every great novel ever written (though apparently this is impossible), because stories transport me to a new world, a new mindset, better than watching some actors on a 24" screen possibly could. 

Speaking of which, I would like to briefly mention the biggest accomplishment of my life:
I have finally finished my first "real" novel, auf Deutsch.

Perhaps I should have done this earlier. I mean, I have been studying German for years - more than 8, actually, which accounts for over a third of my life (crazy!). I have read short stories, poetry and newspapers and watched some TV programs or movies, but I've never really sat down and read a real book.

The book I chose to read was actually kind of chosen for me. A friend gave me the book, Der Chinese by Henning Mankell, back in the fall. This book was originally written in Swedish, so it probably didn't have quite the same number of overwhelming, run-on, lost verbs sentences that some German books have, but it was still quite the challenge as it has 600 pages. Basically, it had to do with a murder investigation that's history went back over 150 years and across 3 continents. It was quite good in German, and I'm sure would be equally good in English.

Those non-reading students may never quite understand the extreme pleasure and pride I got from finally finishing that beast of a book.

P.S. Read A Book! <--good message, sorry for the dirty language.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The hills are not really alive.

The title of this post refers to a conversation I had with a student today, who was describing a festival held in Austria on the 30th of April. 
Student: Yes, so there are fireworks and ships on the Donau... er, Danube, and the hills.... the hills are...
Me: Alive?
Student: (annoyed) No. They are beautiful.

Clearly my Sound of Music reference went unappreciated.

Not to make anyone in the Pacific Northwest jealous... but the weather here is fantastic right now. It's been hovering between 60 and 75 degrees for the last couple weeks, and every day seems warmer! I'm not the hugest fan of hot weather, but sunshine and warmth are things I depend on.

Not to sound like a real Sound of Music freak, but I'd like to list of a few of my favorite things... from Austria in the spring. I really like lists - they're organized and you can skim! So, apologies for all the blog posts that contain lists.
Window shopping, at night.
  • People! J and I live near Meidlinger-hauptstrasse, a long, busy shopping street. Meidling, our district in Vienna, is mainly full of apartments. There are many people from all different cultures, meaning we have an Asian grocery store, a Turkish grocery store and our usual Austrian stores within walking distance! Anyway, as the days warm up, people are hitting the streets in droves. It's wonderful to see people of all different ages hanging out on the same street. Families playing together, kids playing with other kids...  I feel like as a teenager I would avoid anywhere that adults were, but here they all play together. It's heartwarming!
  • einen Schaufensterbummel machen, or window shopping - The stores in Austria close obscenely early, around 7 PM. As the days grow longer, this means that the sun is still high in the sky when they shut, leaving everyone to find other activities to entertain themselves. The stores often set up elaborate displays (especially shoe and clothing stores) which people look at at all hours of the night. I've seen people window shopping at 1 AM - no joke. Anyway, as a former business student/human, I can't help but wonder, wouldn't it be effective to have the stores open later hours? There are customers literally standing outside the shops admiring the goods! Ah, Austria and your traditions...
We scream for ice cream (in Krems!)
  • Ice cream - Have I mentioned how much I love ice cream here? The flavor options are fantastic, though I usually just choose nutella and banana. Or green apple. Or pineapple. Anyway, I literally fight the urge to stop and buy an ice cream cone daily. They're so cheap, and everyone walks around rubbing their delicious ice cream in my face (okay not really, but it does seem that way...).
  • Long days - I go to bed around 930 and the sky is just losing it's finally lightness. I woke up at 4:45 this morning (standard procedure) and discovered that the sky was already blue. It's pretty nice to be able to be outside basically during all of my waking hours and discover that it's still light out and not scary.
  • Schönbrunn - I know I talk about this park all the time, but it's the best. I've discovered a new hidden area only accessible by climbing through a bush, where I can read my book in peace while listening to the sounds of people walking around me. Also, a squirrel touched me of his own free will. Kind of gross, but mostly cute.
Finally, let me describe one of my favorite little moments I've had: today, while walking around 9 PM, I passed an elderly man listening to some great Austrian music from a boombox. Only in spring can one jam so publicly. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mai Goodness, it's May

Maibaum in stormy Moedling
Well, friends and family, it's May, also known as the last full month I have in this country. Incidentally, did you know that no other month starts on the same weekday as May? June has the same problem.

May so far has been nice. Austrians celebrate May Day too, but differently. The cities each erect their own Maibaum (may pole/may tree) in the cities. These trees are crazy tall, some are even taller than the nearby churches! I'm not sure about the selection process of these may poles... find the tallest tree in the nearby forest and cut it down? Anyway, I think many Northwesterners would freak out about the murdered tree, but I think it's quaint. The tree took about 15 minutes to put up. which I had not expected, but it meant that I got to have a good, hard look at all the people of Mödling.

Like the stereotypical maypole, ribbons are attached to the maypole and people dance around it in interesting, weaving patterns. Unfortunately, these people were not the young, single people of the town, but rather the middle-aged or older crowd who have been suckered into doing this dance every year for decades.

In other May news, my tourism school sort of tricked me into doing something interesting. A few months ago, someone asked me if I'd like to lead a workshop in their Sporttag, or sports day, and naturally, I accepted without really thinking about it (Americans often make promises they don't intend to keep, if you'll remember my previous blog post on Americans). Anyway, sports day happened to be today, and on Monday I found myself terrified at the idea of teaching some Austrian teenagers how to be cheerleaders (not that I was actually a cheerleader, but no one in Austria understands drill team). I choreographed a short routine, briefed myself on the old games we used to play on drill (ride my pony, anyone?), and got to school early to set up my classroom, discovering that the room was full of chairs and desks, which I moved and stacked in about 15 minutes... only to find out I was in the wrong room. Bad start. Anyway, the workshop went great! The kids actually remembered what I taught them, and they looked like they were having fun. I myself had a GREAT time. Teaching would be a lot easier if I could just start dancing whenever I felt awkward.

 Schönbrunn, looking lovely
Of course, May is also the month where spring is FINALLY visible! Schönbrunn is looking fantastically green this time of year. Being here, often outside and thus exposed to the elements, has confirmed my belief that I am a spring person. There's nothing like the first ice cream of spring, the first day of laying out in the sun with a book or the first springtime bike ride.

I only have about 40 days left in this country, and only 12 days left of teaching. There are a couple things I want to do before I leave Austria, but my primary goal is to finally finish my first real German novel. So far, I'm finished with 470 pages out of 605! Getting close!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Traveling Woman, pt. 2

Austria is Catholic, and as Catholics, they really believe in celebrating Easter. Luckily for me (and every other TA in this country), that means a 2 week vacation for me! I took the opportunity to get out of Austria and instead head south to the land of carbs, cheese and gelato... yes, Italy.
Guess where this is!

Venice (April 16-17) - I've been to Venice before, with the University of Portland Salzburg group back in 2008, but unfortunately for us, it was pouring rain then. This time around, Taylor, Jenni and I explored the city with about 50,000 other tourists. Really, Venice is kind of crazy... It seems to me that everyone there must either work in tourism or be a tourist themselves. By the end of our 2 days there, we were all nearly tricked into buying an unnecessary mask or glass dish of some sort... but I'm ranting. Venice truly is a city built around the canals, with police vehicles and even ambulances cruising in the water, dodging through the tourists on gondolas. 

Scott scampering on some rocks in Riomaggiore
Cinque Terre (April 17-22) - Oh goodness, there's so much to say about the Cinque Terre. As Taylor exclaimed immediately after leaving the train station at 11:30 PM, "I love it so much!". The Cinque Terre are five coastal towns (hence "Cinque Terre") connected by a train track and hike-able paths. We chose to stay in Corniglia, the middle and smallest of the five towns, with a population less than the number of stairs it takes to reach it (382 or so, which is a lot of stairs after a 4 hour hike.). Our group of ladies was joined by another TA, Scott, and we four followed Rick Steves's walking tours around all of the Cinque Terre and two bonus cities. The views from the hikes were fantastic, the towns were quaint, the tourists were at a minimum, and the gelato was abundant... basically it was five days in heaven. Also, I saw my first real fireflies (!!!) although I may have nearly killed one in my excitement. I truly hope I can return to the Cinque Terre at some other point in my life, because it seems like a place where many new things can be discovered. Thanks, Rick Steves!

A view of Manarola... the colors were fantastic!
A tourist doing the typical "holding up the tower" pose.
Pisa (April 21) - Pisa, as most people know, is home to a rather famous but useless building: the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We took a 2 hour stop in Pisa solely to see this photo-worthy tower and discovered that yes, folks, it really does lean! Construction on the building started in 1178, and they noticed quickly that it was leaning, so, to compensate, the constructors decided to build the next couple levels with one side shorter than the other. Logical, right? Anyway, other than the tower Pisa left a lot to be desired. If Pisa ever tires of its tourist, it just needs to take down the tower to become another medium-sized, somewhat boring Italian city. Problem solved!

A bookstore we found in Florence. I can only imagine
 how difficult it is to find a specific book in there!
Florence (April 21-23) - After our brief stop in Pisa, we continued on our journey to Florence, the home of lots of art and people selling fake brand-name things. We took a nice walk around the city and saw all the sights (which Jenni and I had seen before when we came with UP), but for me the best part of the stay was our hostel (Plus Florence Hostel, if you're curious)! Among other amenities, there was a pool, sauna and Turkish spa of which we certainly took advantage. Returning to the "big" (population: 367,000) city of Florence proved to be a bit overwhelming after our relaxing break in Cinque Terre. Florence is a big study abroad hot-spot, and I can see why. The city is big yet easy to navigate, and there are lots of interesting museums and churches for art history people to study. Plus, it's nice looking.

Anyway, I'm happy to be back in Austria. The strange thing about major tourist areas is that English is spoken more often than the native language, and definitely not just by native English speakers! It's strange to be able to understand everyone around you, since the majority of what people talk about is either complaining or just nonsense. It's kind of nice to be in Austria, where every conversation going on around me is a mystery that I can try to understand or not. Vacations are great because you can see so much and learn a lot about other cultures, but they have a tendency to become a major money-sucker, which frugal people like me tend to stress about.

Traveling Woman, pt. 1

I've been doing some traveling recently, which has been interesting. Traveling makes me appreciate what I've got here in Vienna while also helping me learn interesting things about other places. A few weekends ago, I took a trip with my friend Laura to Sofia, Bulgaria. I won't talk about everything, but here are some highlights (in no particular order, to keep everyone on their toes):

    Rila Monastery (take a peek at the awesome frescoes!)
  • Rila Monastery - On our second day in Sofia, we participated in an excursion offered from our hostel, and we took a terrifying (because of our crazy driver) two hour drive into the mountains near Sofia. We ended up at the Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila, an impressive complex built originally in the 10th century, though most what is left was built in the 19th century. The church in the middle is beautiful, with fantastically colorful frescoes everywhere! Also, we some some monks walking around... and I like monks.
  • Free walking tour - Our first day, Laura insisted that we take a free walking tour of the city, which was a great idea! We got to visit all the important places of Sofia with someone telling us interesting things about them. Sofia is on top of a natural spring (rather than a river or lake like most European cities), and we got to see some Sofians filling 5 gallon jugs with water. Also, I won a prize for answering a trivia question. 
  • These bracelets are tied to trees during spring
    after a Bulgarian sees a stork, to bring good
    luck in the following year! I have one, but I've
    never seen a stork... so no good luck yet.
  • Our hostel - In Sofia, we stayed in a lovely hostel called Hostel Mostel. The hostel offered a complimentary breakfast (with 2 kinds of cheese, apples, yogurt, tomatoes AND ham!) and pasta dinner, and the friendly atmosphere made everyone feel comfortable sitting around and making small talk. We met a lot of interesting people in the hostel who often joined us on our adventures, which was great. To top it off, the hostel was dirt cheap! Overall, it was a win.
  • Learning about their crazy history - Sofia as a city has had a lot of leadership issues. It's history starts with the Thracians around the 4th century BC, which was followed by leadership by the Romans for a while. In the 800s, it became part of the Bulgarian Empire (yay!). An influential part of Sofia's history was when it was part of the Ottoman empire, from 1382 until 1878. The Turks turned some of the older churches into mosques and did a lot of other things that the Sofians didn't really like. Finally in 1878 Sofia was liberated by Russia. After siding with Germany in WWII, Bulgaria formed a Communist government, which was abolished in 1989. See, I told you it was crazy!!!! I can hardly fathom how they've managed to maintain their culture and sense of identity throughout this whole mess.
  • Cheap food - Vienna is expensive. Sofia is cheap. I ate a lot. 
Alexander Nevski Church
  • Talking to my cab driver in German - One of my favorite moments in Sofia was in the taxi ride back to the airport. While my driver was on the phone, I looked out my window and saw 1. a man reading the newspaper while driving, 2. a man rollerblading the wrong direction through traffic and 3. a man eating a sandwich and talking on the phone while driving. And people wonder while Sofia is such a nightmare, traffic-wise. Anyway, the driver and I had a great talk in German, which put me in a good mood. It's fun to speak German with people who also don't speak it perfectly, since neither of us is intimidated!  
Laura, Sloth and Guillaume enjoying baklava!
Anyway, Sofia was an interesting city, but definitely not like Vienna. It's much poorer and less stable, but the people were still very kind to a pair of non-Bulgarian-speaking American girls. At one point, we got lost while looking for a church, and asked for directions in a movie store... I ended up speaking in broken English to a women on a cell phone, because these kind Sofians were willing to do anything to help.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Appreciating and things

As June 14th comes closer, I find myself thinking more and more about what I'm going to miss about Austria when I'm back in the States. It's been a strange year, of course... sometimes exciting and wonderful, sometimes really difficult. But there are lots of little things I really dig that don't exist where I come from.

1. Relaxation - Austrians love to take it easy. My teachers are consistently 5 minutes late to class (always commenting on how I'm ready to go when the bell rings... which would still make me tardy by American standards), and they really value sitting for a mment to drink their coffee. I tend to live my life bordering on being over-stressed, so it's nice to be surrounded by people who are never going to pressure me time-wise.

2. Aufstrich - Aufstrich is a wonderful spread found in most grocery stores here. It's made up of soy beans mixed with vegetables, garlic and some spices. Personally, I like to put tomato-basil on my sandwiches and eat curry-pineapple with my plain bread. I guess it's kind of like hummus.. only less tahini, and more variety.

3. Public transportation - When I go to work, I ride the train for about 3 hours a day. I am so glad that time is not spent driving a car, but rather in the comfort of a train where I can spread out, read, eat, study or sleep! The underground in Vienna is also a great way to get around the city, since it goes basically everywhere I need to go. It even runs all night on the weekends! I hate having to pay for a monthly transportation pass, but it definitely is cheaper than driving... so that's great.

4. Ability to speak German at any time - I like speaking (correct) German, a lot. It's a fun language for me; kind of mathematical, sometimes English-like, sometimes absolutely different from everything I know. Sure, I don't speak it all the time, but it's pretty cool to be able to practice whenever I want! I've been making some serious progress with my small-talking skills, which helps me feel comfortable. Anyway, I don't get the chance to speak much German in the States.

Austria is cute!
5. Picturesque countrysides - I wish I could explain the quaintness of Austrian villages. 3 or 4 onion-shaped church towers (does anyone know what that style is really called?) surrounded by peaks of red roofs... It's adorable. Not to mention the bunnies and deer that I see daily, and the Danube! I love my train ride and the chance to see such a cute countryside.

6. Brown eggs - Eating a white hardboiled egg just isn't the same... I'm always afraid I'll eat the shell.

7. Teaching - Teaching has made me smarter and wiser about current events, history and the world in general and I really like doing it! I'll definitely miss gathering all the fun facts I have learned this year (such as: Austria gets 39% of its energy from rivers, there are 300,000 homeless people in America, and 34% of Americans are obese!).  It's fun to help my students realize new things, and really awesome to see them make progress. Don't know if I'll manage to incorporate this into my future or not... only time will tell.

So, yes. Austria is great and different.

(But I still can hardly wait for Stumptown coffee, Indian food, a dryer and the ability to sing in my car while driving where I need to go!)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My Precious

It finally happened. I have been banned from a class.

Okaay it's not really that bad - the students are particularly unenthusiastic and they're behind anyway, so I've been relocated to another classroom so I can be put to better use. As their teacher said, "You're too precious to go to waste in this class!"

Some "native speakers" hanging out in Krems
"Precious"... that word has such strange connotations to me. Firstly, it makes me think of my friends sarcastically complimenting me for being dressed like a 10 year old girl, which made me chuckle inappropriately when the teacher said this. Then, I think of some sort of rare, expensive jewel, which also seems kind of strange to me. But then I thought about it a bit. A native speaker IS a rare, expensive thing. These students have been watching American movies and TV their whole lives but very few have ever really had a chance to speak to an American, to see what kind of things we say in real life. I'm sure the teachers of these classes don't walk in saying 'What's up guuuys?" or many other things that may be considered "slang" but are just considered to be normal conversation for me. Not to be self-centered, but English is an important language in the world, particularly in business and tourism. I don't know how many times I've heard people on a train conversing in English, though it is obvious that neither is speaking their native language. English is the most commonly spoken language in the word (except Chinese?) and having a basic understanding of it helps make an international life easier.

For that reason, I'm lucky; I speak English pretty darn well, though not perfectly, let's be honest! English is an interesting language because it's constantly changing. I have a theory that slang in English progresses faster than slang in any other language because the native speakers are a. striving to differentiate themselves from other English speakers, and b. striving to differentiate themselves from people who don't speak English natively. The United States and England have only been separated for approximately 400 years, but there's still plenty of terms the Brits use that I've never heard of (hob? aubergine? bin?!).

In Krems-Stein
Anyway, I can't judge my students for not taking advantage of talking to me, because I struggle to take advantage of the 8 million Austrians surrounding me. This year has been full of a lot of self discovery, but unfortunately a large part of that discovery is that I'm antisocial and I don't like looking foolish and making language mistakes. Also, I could talk to any old Austrian just to practice German, but I don't know what to talk about! So, instead, I adventure Vienna by myself (citybike, a free bike service, is currently rocking my world), read great books and occasionally make small talk with the man who works at Spar.

In other news, my school had its Maturaball on Saturday! I took the opportunity to be the only person to speak English to my students at this event, and had a great time! It was fun to see my favorite teachers, it was fun to see my favorite students, it was fun to dance like a crazy American.

Not that I'm counting, but I counted and I've got 11 weeks left here in Austria. It's kind of refreshing to know the exact number. The time pressure encourages me to go out and go see the museums I have been meaning to see, while also making me want to end everything on a good note. It's easy to stay positive in the springtime when trees are blossoming and people are outside and bunnies are bounding across fields.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Being a Seattle Rain-Lover

I'll admit. I've been a bad blogger recently. I've been struggling with some homesickness/real sickness that has kind of made life here not something I felt like writing about. Sorry, I'll try to be better.

Today I experienced something wonderful! Something that I am used to having almost daily, something which gives life and takes away life (everything has pros and cons, folks) and mostly, gets things wet.

Yes, RAIN!

To you Northwesters, this probably sounds crazy, because it rains all the time there and what's the big deal about rain? And to you non-Northwesters, this also probably sounds crazy, because who likes rain!? Turns out, I do. it never rains here. Sure, it rained once or twice in October, but I didn't miss rain then. We also had a lot of snow, which is precipitation but of the wrong kind (it's too cold).

I opened my windows at 4PM to see the glorious sight of rain falling into the courtyard (I should mention that I've been ill and bedridden since Tuesday afternoon - standing is difficult. Also, this could have added to my delirium). I immediately donned my raincoat and headed out the door.

I had forgotten what cars and footsteps sound like in the rain, heavier and snappier. I had forgotten how rain strengthens all scents, making mud smell muddier, cigarettes smell cigarette-ier and Indian food smell Indian food-ier (who knew that was possible?!). It's the smell of waking up, of life, of spring! Feeling my cheek, rain makes me wonder if I'm crying, while also making me feel like I've just stepped out of a shower. It's confusing and wonderful and reminds me of home.

I talk about Seattle a lot in my schools, because no one's ever heard of Portland, and everyone's heard of Sleepless in Seattle or Grey's Anatomy. Both show a lot of rainy scenes of Seattle, and it's true, it does rain a lot. But it's not the rainiest city in the US, apparently, even though we like to brag that it is "the Rainy City". I guess it just rains... often. Anyway, like I said, I've been dealing with some homesickness lately. The weather has been lovely (rain, yes, but also lots of sun and warmth!) and I've done interesting things but I'm finding myself ready to return home. I guess it's that kind of lull in the year where I can see the end but it's just far enough out of reach where I can't comprehend what it's going to feel like. I'm pretty tired of struggling with Austrian-German and am looking forward to a time where I feel comfortable and not like an outsider. But I guess that's part of the big lessons of this year - learning how to keep myself happy, learning how to be okay with being a bit unhappy, and most of all learning patience. Which, unfortunately, can only be learned very slowly.

Friday, February 25, 2011

If you can't say something nice, say something unabashedly.

In general, Americans are pretty vague. "Do you want some coffee?" "I'm okay, thanks". Or, "Are you coming tonight?" "Probably not". Our vagueness makes us feel polite, like we're not hurting anyone's feelings.
I've always prided myself on my bluntness. It probably springs from the fact that I'm a terrible liar, so I've had to get pretty confident when I want to tell someone my real feelings on their clothes, relationships, cooking etc. Perhaps one of the more strangely emotional things I've had to get used to here in Austria, however, is how directly Austrians speak. Some of my coworkers are not afraid to point out (and touch!) the small hole in my tights, or to tell me that the lesson I taught wasn't very good. Of course, their directness can also be kind. If they like something, they tell you, and they tell you multiple times in varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Honestly, I think we Americans are generally unenthusiastic conversationalists, and usually lean towards a (fake?) positive attitude when we speak. If someone asks how a play was, we respond with "good", and maybe a little about it. Only the extremes ever receive any greater praise.

Here are some examples of real conversations I've had here:

"Katie, do you need the computer?"
"I'm fine, thanks"
"...what does that mean? Yes?"

"Katie, would you like some water?"
"Uhm, okay. Tap water or mineral water?"
"Whatever's easier"
"I don't care. Just pick one."

"Katie, do you think you'll come?"
"Maybe! I think I've got plans though.
"So... you are doing something else?"
"I mean, probably."
"So... you won't be coming?"
"I don't think so."

Clearly, my indirectness is frustrating to these poor Austrians. But I think it's our small way to keep windows open, to not upset people and to in general, keep things positive. I've been trying to become a little bit more Austrian in my speaking, which feel strange but does get the message across! Sometimes the language barrier inhibits polite conversation, and I find myself saying things like "No, I do NOT want to work an extra class for you" or something that to me sounds terrible rude... but to Austrians, shows that we're comfortable enough to say what we need?

Speaking of keeping things positive, I taught a lesson on small talk this week. Now, this seems like such an easy subject, but it's really not! Small talk in another language is difficult, because the range of topics is so broad, and the conversation starts so quickly (and is so unimportant) that it can be hard to switch into the other language. I don't know how many times I've simply mumbled some Denglish at people when they try to talk to me about the weather, or a class, or their weekend. Anyway, in my mind, small talk is a light conversation which both parties walk away from feeling slightly better about mankind. My students didn't quite grasp this concept, and instead got into arguments about football vs. soccer, or talked about the terrible weather and how it made them sad, or complained about their "terrible, abusive boss" at the water cooler. Pretty funny, but not very good small talk.

I've been thinking a lot about languages recently, partly thanks to a book I read called "Mother Tongue" by Bill Bryson. If you're at all interested in understanding more about the English language, it's a great book to read! He explained the history of how English came to be a language, which helps explain why we have so many synonyms for different words, or so many words that sound similar but have slightly different meanings. Also, it was pretty funny. Fun fact: English is one of the few languages where a thesaurus is really necessary - my students have never even heard of such a thing!!

In other news, I'm currently basking in the glory of a visitor-free weekend! Jenni and I are lucky enough to have a big apartment, so we often invite people to stay for a couple nights, and really we do love it. Having out-of-towners is a good excuse to get out and do things in the city. Last weekend, Isaac (a friend from UP) came with some other Dresden Fulbrighters to visit our lovely, cold city. We went to the ballet, drank Viennese coffee and basically showed them what our normal lives are like. This weekend, however, I'm excited to do exactly what I want to be doing at all times (within reason, of course). I think that's kind of how happy people live life, always....

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Great February Experiment 2.0

January 2010 was, for many reasons, not the best month for me. I felt pretty depressed and upset for most of the month, and knew I didn't want to feel that way for ever... so I decided to force myself to be happy by undergoing a project I called the Great February Experiment (GFE). Essentially, it all comes down to positive thinking. I tried to appreciate every little moment in my life, whether it be a great bike ride, or the moon, or some seriously cute little girls selling flowers. I figured that if I could make myself think everything that was "good" was "great", everything that was "okay" was "good", and everything that was "bad" was "okay", then I might be able to change my mood. Turns out, it worked!  I spent most of February 2010 being deliriously happy (props to my roommate Cate for putting up with my insanity) and the experiment has helped me stay a lot more positive since then.

So, now it's February 2011, and the experiment is back in its namesake month. January 2011 wasn't quite as depressing as January 2010, but the short days and bad weather certainly didn't do much for my mood. I'm finding that the whole experiment isn't quite as powerful as it was last year... though it's still good to be reminded that it feels better when I think nice things about people or situations. Always judging people or assuming the worst of every situation makes life worse!

So, let's talk about February so far.

Austria appreciates the February doldrums, it seems; they give their students (and teachers!) a week off! Jenni and I took this opportunity to travel to Portugal and Spain to hang out with her cousin. It was a seriously fantastic vacation. Even though I've been in Europe for almost 5 months, I still have only left Austria twice (once to Slovakia, once to the US). It was great to be in a culture that is different from Austria... not only are the stores open past 7 PM in those countries, but people are just getting their second wind for the day! The weather was great, we ate too much delicious food and we got to have car dance parties - obviously I was in heaven. For me, though, the best part of the whole trip was feeling curious! Having been in Austria for so long, I've kind of gotten used to most things. That's not to say that I understand everything - I certainly don't. But in Portugal and Spain, things were different (they eat at 10 PM? they mostly drink espresso? they take a siesta!?  they love feeling claustrophobic!?) and I found myself feeling interested and curious about everything. It felt... refreshing. I've been trying to carry that mindset back into Austria, because if I don't care about differences in our cultures, I'll never learn or remember anything about them, and then what's the point in being here?

Anyway, while traveling we stayed in a bunch of hostels (including Hostelworld's #1 hostel in 2010) and met lots of people, all traveling for different reasons. I've come to realize recently that I don't have the "travel bug" that many other people my age (or any age?) do. I mean, I am dreaming of the day when I can settle down in Portland, and currently spend my free time looking at kittens from the humane society. Living the "travel" life is, frankly, kind of selfish. You don't make money while traveling, you don't help others while traveling... and sometimes I don't know if that's what I need to be doing. Not to say that I'm not very grateful that I have the opportunity to do this, or that experiencing new parts of the world is a bad thing - I just know I can't do it forever.

In other February news, my schools are great. The teachers have been really kind to me all week, saying nice things about how I teach (although my Betreuungslehrerin did tell me my German went downhill over the semester break... but I'll talk more about the direct nature of Austrians in my next post). It's reassuring to know that they think I'm doing a good job! It helps to distract me from feeling bad about being "selfishly" here.

So... here are some pictures from my adventures!

Castelo de San Jorge in Lisbon. Built in 1147 - bad ass!

Ali and Jenni on the cliffs in Lagos, Portugal

Cats! in Cadiz, Spain

Carmo Convent in Lisbon - roofless since 1755. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

"Advice", or the Austrian version of it

In both of my schools, I've been assigned to one teacher (my "Betreuungslehrer"(in, if female)) who helps me organize my schedule and in general oversees my survival in Austria. At the tourism school, this teacher is great. She's kind, funny, and speaks perfect English (though we almost always speak German/Austrian). Anyway, she's about 45 or so, and we have some pretty ridiculous conversations.

My first day...
G: This is my best friend, S. She's really nice, and she can be your friend, but she can't be your best friend because she's already my best friend.

G: (pointing at S's desk) Katie, this is a "Sauhofen" (pigsty)
Me: Oh, okay! (quickly trying to memorize it)
....2 months later, after having used the word far too often....
G: By the way, you shouldn't use the word Sauhofen in polite society. It's not a very nice word - you should really only say it to S and me, just to be safe.

G: So, you're not going to stay another year.
Me: No... doesn't look that way...
G: The problem is that you need a boyfriend! An Austrian boyfriend!
S: Yes, do you go out in Vienna?
G: Not enough, certainly. You'd have met someone if you went out more. S used to live in Vienna, she went out all the time! She was crazy! But now she's happy. (mind you, S is divorced)
S: We need to find you a boyfriend. Maybe we could have a "speed dating" session for you....

G: Katie, you've been sitting here for hours! What are you doing?
Me: I'm waiting to teach in YOUR class in an hour!
G: What?! No. You should never ever have to wait 3 hours to teach in my class. I would never make you do that! Go home, get out of here!

G: Katie, where is your sweater!? Aren't you cold? I'm the one going through menopause!

G: My husband's coming back today! I'm so happy!
Me: Oh, great! How long has he been gone?
G: Ten days! It's been ten days since I've had sex!
Me: (wondering if I heard correctly, since sex and 6 (sechs) sound very similar)...... sex?
S: Yes, sex Katie! It's what married couples do, you know. Have sex! Didn't you know that? Ha ha ha.
G: Oh, Katie is going to think the Austrians are crazy (true) and that we are obsessed with sex (also true)! Yes, it's been 10 days! I can hardly wait! which point I walked away uncomfortably, because there's really no way to make that situation better.

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Haus of Rats and Having Class

Blurry, but we're ice skating.
In the past few weeks, I've had a lot of contact with Vienna's Rathaus, or City Hall. It was built in the 1870s in a neo-gothic style, by Friedrich Schmidt, but that's not really the exciting part. What's fun about the Rathaus, at least currently, is the Eistraum (ice dream), a ice skating park in front of the impressive and beautiful building! I've never been a great ice skater (or skier, or rollerskater...) but man, it's great! This park has 3 decent sized ice rinks, along with some trails off the sides so people like me can adventure and avoid the terrifying moment of falling down in the middle of a big ice rink. Ice skating, by the way, is really fun. I can now see the benefit of living in Minnesota, or Austria, for that matter, because it's cold enough to support ice skating rinks! 

On Thursday and Friday of last week, there was a conference for Teachers of English in Austria. First stop: a tour of the city hall! The staff of Vienna was really excited to have us, and we got to view most of the beautiful rooms in the building (except for one, which was in use for real city purposes). While I was scheming for my future wedding, the tour guide informed us that unfortunately citizens cannot rent out the expensive rooms for their own events - because it's a public building, only public events can occur there. Fine. Anyway, it was nice, and the library was reminiscent of Harry Potter, only with less flying books and more loud voices.

The TEA conference (not the Tea Party of America - don't get confused) was interesting. I learned some new ideas for lessons and how to deal with students, and in general am glad that I went, especially because it was free and I didn't have school anyway. I did, however, feel a bit crazy. The other teachers (now students in these classes) were passing notes, talking, and in general behaving every bit like the 17 year olds we teach. I find it funny how easy it is to slip back into the "student" mindset, even though I myself now know (or at least a bit) how difficult it can be to be a teacher, and how great it is when students pay attention. 

As I mentioned before, it's ball season here in Vienna! I managed to attend 3 balls in 7 days, which is pretty balling if I do say so myself. Each ball is different, of course. Last weekend, we went to a school ball in Amstetten to see a friend waltz with his students. This ball had a nice hour long talent show featuring Amstetten's finest performing pieces from Grease, Dirty Dancing, or just double-dutch jump roping. Similarly, a maturaball I went to in Waidhofen had a portion where the oldest classes did dances from all over the world (America was dancing to rap music, and Africa to Shakira). These balls are fun because the whole family is involved, and there are multiple dance floors for multiple purposes! The parents/adults spend most of the time waltzing to songs from Baywatch, while the students spend their time jamming to Austria's top 40 in a smaller, darker hall somewhere. Overall it's a good time.

At the Hofburg
By far the most interesting ball I went to was the Technical University ball at the Hofburg. This was a formal affair, which my date and I kept ruining by being in the wrong place at the right time. For example: we sneaked into the whole ball without having to give anyone our tickets (though we had them), we sneaked into the VIP lounge and got free champagne, without meaning to, and we somewhat interrupted the opening procession by standing in the way. Anyway, it was a great time. I've learned how to waltz, and danced to the Blue Danube Waltz, in the Imperial Palace of Vienna! Austrians really can dance, surprisingly. Every hall of the palace had a different band playing live music, such as jazz, boogie, rumba, salsa, and of course the traditional waltz, and each dance was executed perfectly! Joe and I struggled and made fools of ourselves, but luckily most of the Austrians took pity on us and gave us lots of space. My favorite dance of the whole ball was the Quadrille, which is essentially a pattern of moves that are explained by a woman barking orders into a microphone, and with the music going faster and faster until everyone is messing up and laughing. It was great.

Anyway, in case the students of my classes haven't had enough holidays, we are taking a one week break beginning on Friday. I'm taking this opportunity to get out of Austria and into another culture, namely Portugal and Spain! As charming as I find Austria, and as few hours as I actually work, I've been a bit overwhelmed by my busy schedule in recent weeks, and hope that some time away will help me de-stress. It will be interesting to see how much Spanish I can remember... I think my abilities stop at "where are my pants?", which won't be useful since I wear nothing but dresses. Anyhow, a change in weather and a chance to get into the sunshine will be beneficial, I think.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Let's talk about AUSTRIA.

So, the time has come. The topic is on the tip of everyone's tongues (at least, everyone I talk to).

What is going to happen next year?

While I don't exactly have a response to the whole Mayan 2012  thing, I do know that I'm not going to be in Austria when it happens. One of the cool aspects of this program through the Fulbright Commission is that we're given a chance to do it all over again for a second year (want to learn some German? die Verlängerung = the extension), either in the same school or somewhere else. But unfortunately, to help give an answer to the people who were me this time last year, we have to decide this week if we want to extend. And I've chosen not to.

But that's not to say I don't like Austria, because I really do. I also like taking a second to stop and recognize why something is great in one's life. Hence, this list of reasons of why I like Austria.
  • Eccentric German speaking. I have complained before about the Austrian dialect. Probably ever German-speaking-hopeful who finds themselves in Austria has complained about the Austrian dialect. But, as frustrating as it can be, I find it kind of endearing. I'm not sure when I'll use German in my life, but I secretly love knowing some silly Austrian things, because it makes me different. So what if it's impossible to spell or understand? It just makes the Austrian club all the more exclusive.
  • Weird obsessions. Being a small country (sorry about World War I and losing Hungary, guys), Austria has a relatively small pool from which to get it's more modern culture. I've never heard of any Austrian sitcoms, and most Austrian music never catches on outside the country. So, when Austria finds something they like, they tend to obsess over it. Take, for example, Elisabeth, Empress of Austria, aka Sisi. Sisi is wildly popular in Austrian tourism, because of her beauty, extremely long hair, and scandalous and secretive lifestyle. Another obsession is that of the song Barbra Streisand, a really catchy song that's only lyrics are "Barbra Streisand". It's made in New York, but I've heard it allll over Austria. I think I like Austria's weird obsessions because they remind me of weird things I would get obsessed with back in high school... or now.
  • The abundance of soup I can get at any time. I'm a soupaholic. I'll eat soup for any meal, no matter the flavor. Luckily for me, Austria also loves soup. Most restaurants offer a soup of the day, which is actually delicious compared to some "Soup de Jour" you might find in America. My favorites? Pumpkin-creme, anything-creme, Katie-made-stew, anything with a dumpling, and tomato. 
  • Wine! Austria has a couple great wine regions. Lower Austria primarily does white wines (Riesling, anyone?), while Burgenland seems to offer more reds. Lower Austria (where I teach) in fact has an area called the "Weinviertel" (wine quarter).... so you can see that it's been part of it's culture for years. Anyway, wine is cheap here. And good! Sure, I miss a good Portland microbrew, but I'm certainly not suffering.
  • Simply put: Austria is beautiful. The Alps, the Danube, the historical architecture largely undamaged by war... Austria really is gorgeous. I'm constantly surprised by a beautiful sunrise or sunset, or how fantastically calm the snow can look on a field. I could never live anywhere that was flat, and thank goodness Austria absolutely is not.
  • Delicious desserts, and coffee. Coming from the Pacific Northwest, I love me a good cup of coffee. Vienna boasts about their coffeehouses, specializing in a nice black coffee "mit Schlag". And what should one get with a cup of coffee? Only a fantastic piece of cake, of course! My favorite is the Esterhazy, though honestly, I don't know anything about the ingredients other than it's delicious. I think there's some sort of nuts (very typical). Anyway, it's delicious and probably too intricate for me to ever make by myself, so thank goodness I can purchase it at my friendly neighborhood underground station.
  • The cold weather, though not unbearably cold. It's easy to complain about the cold weather here, but it's really not so bad compared to many other places in the world. Austrians really know how to dress warmly and look good, which can be intimidating but also wonderfully practical. They also have figured out all these ways to work around the snow and ice. For example, they eliminate drafts in the train station by locking certain doors. And eliminate a backup of ice in the river by pulling it out, then pushing it back in when it's warmer! Anyway, I'm sure that someday in my future I'll be able to complain about how cold it was in Austria (15 degrees Fahrenheit!), which is something to be thankful for, right?
  • Easy-going people. Sure, Austria is Catholic, and with that Catholicism comes a lot of rules. But in general, people are very forgiving. The underground was delayed by 8 minutes because of a problem, and I found myself completely shocked by how no one except me seemed upset about it! As a result of the delayed subway, I missed my train to Krems and was late, but the teacher seemed not to mind at all. Austrians are, in my experience, often late, which works well for people like me who hate being late but don't mind if others are. 
  • Its stubbornness, and pride. Austria is what it is, and probably won't be changing any time soon. People are "Catholic", go to mass once a year and sleep through the outrageous number of Catholic holidays. But it's part of their culture to be Catholic, and so they remain so. Also, Austria is slow. Today I was talking to my coordinating teacher about a legal issue we had in the school (headmaster wrongly hired, people upset, people pressing charges blahblahblah) and she said it took them six years to work it out. SIX YEARS of dealing with a headmaster nobody really liked. When I was shocked at this, she said "Well, of course! It's Austria!"... Anyway, I'm rather stubborn too, so I can appreciate Austria sticking to their guns, even if it can be very inconvenient for me.
  • The love of the Great Outdoors. Like I mentioned, Austria has some beautiful mountains. Of course, these mountains aren't covered in my familiar evergreens, but they do offer nice hikes or other outdoor activities. Austrians are, as a whole, pretty fit people. Everywhere you look you can see people Nordic Walking , which is basically walkers pretending they're skiing. Though, unlike in America, Austrians only wear exercise gear when they're actually exercising. 
Ah yes. Of course there's many things that are lovable about Austria, and some things that I like about Austria that are really applicable to most of Europe/the world... but it's my list, and these are the things I find myself appreciating most often. Sometimes June and America can seem very far away, but I guess I'm pretty lucky to be in such a great place.