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

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.