Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Guest Blog - Part 2

Early morning in Padua

There are many scary things in Vienna. In the early days I used to dread going to our local supermarket for fear of being shamed at the cash register. When I say ’supermarket’: it is not a supermarket as we know them in North America, the UK and Australia. In fact it is about the size of our lounge room in Vienna – but has fewer useful things on the shelves.

The worst part about the supermarket was getting accustomed to the cost. Until we got to grips with the fact that Vienna is a really expensive city, I used to panic at the cost of some of the items I had to buy. I carried a brown paper bag around so that I could breathe into this to calm myself down in times of great stress.

For weeks I couldn’t buy bananas. I would put them in the basket and take them to the cash register and the cashier would pick them up and say something unintelligible to me. I would shrug and she would put them down behind her. I assumed she was saying “do you have a licence to buy bananas?”

I did not and accepted that at some stage I would need to acquire a banana licence. I eventually discovered the secret: I was supposed to weigh them and take them to the cashier with the price tag on them.

I was so pleased with myself when I discovered this that I bought bananas every day for a week. Cate used to throw these into the garden six floors below us (‘for the birds’ she said) and I would see our building supervisor picking these up and looking grimly at the top floor apartments.

I had not realised how hard it would be to buy things when you do not know what they are called, and when you are not enlightened one bit by looking at the labels if there are no pictures. I have an English-German dictionary in my iPhone and spend a lot of time amongst the shelves tapping away.

Fortunately, there are expatriate forums where you are allowed to ask really stupid questions like ‘what is plain flour called in German?’ (And it could well be something entirely different in the Austrian version of German).

The scariest thing in Vienna is meat. It is called Fleisch (and pork is called Schwein). Both these are a bit too visceral for my liking and make the whole business a bit grim. After 18 months I have still not mastered meat and have absolutely no idea what a lot of it is. I do know that Austria is probably the most dangerous place on the planet for pigs, and I think more must die here than anywhere else.

It is not just the names of the meat – it is what it looks like. I had to buy a book on meat so that I could try to identify the body parts of the animals that I could see in the windows. I don’t think Australian animals have all these different parts. I blame Chernobyl.

We lived on chicken for the first six months until I found the other things I needed to make stews and casseroles. I have never been able to find a decent piece of steak despite many efforts. My greatest failure was buying what was supposed to be rump steak but was probably horse meat – but I never did discover what it really was. The cats loved it.

The say that the Austrians are unfriendly. I like to think of them as reserved. I have only ever experienced isolated cases of rudeness – although I have been battered with walking sticks by little old ladies on occasions. But that is not because they are Austrian; it is because they are little old ladies and if you are one of these and someone gets in your road, you then beat them out of the way.

Austria is – as far as I can tell – the smoking capital of Europe. It seems to be the only EC country without any effective smoking regulations so it is a dangerous place for people who hate smoke (us) and people who are allergic to smoke (us).

There are some famous cafes we have never been able to get into as we are instantly asphyxiated in the doorway and have to retreat gasping to the sidewalk. We have discovered a number of excellent non-smoking restaurants, and even some of the most famous cafes here have become non-smoking. But it will be a long time before the culture changes.

But you must adapt to local culture: when in Rome etc. We always adopt this maxim, so when we were in Moscow last week we got paralyzed on Vodka and slept in the Metro.

But we love it here. It’s a gorgeous city and we are as happy as clams. Vienna is the most bicycle-friendly city I have seen and there are more than 400 kilometers of dedicated cycle paths in the city. With the warmer weather I have started my regular 30 kilometer rides along the Danube and the Danube Island…just bliss.

Sometimes when I am beetling along in the sunshine I look at the office blocks in the distance and I think about all those workers – and Cate – beavering away. But not so much that it spoils my fun.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog...I'm not sure where you were before Vienna though but it certainly isn't that expensive. My wife and I moved here 6 months ago from Perth Australia and are astounded. We live walking distance to the center of Vienna for half the rent we paid in Australia and have been pleasantly surprised by the fact that groceries are also very cheap in comparison - especially Fruit and veg...No more paying 12 dollars a kilo for grapes...paid 79 cents this morning!

    Great blog again...very entertaining and informative for us learning our way around Vienna