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.