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EXPAT 101

An expat is not an expatriate. Whereas Giacomo Casanova was an expatriate who was exiled from Venice in the 1700s (need I say why) and  had to wonder around Europe engaging in his shenanigans abroad, David Bowie was a UK expat who chose to live in New York. Yes, the terms share the French and Latin stems “ex” – “out of” and “patrie/patria” – “native land”, but an expatriate is someone who has been banished or exiled from their native country, and an expat is someone who voluntarily lives abroad – though the terms are increasingly being used interchangeably.

Since almost everyone in the world was born in the world’s best country, why would any sane person choose to reside abroad? In addition to the fact that living abroad makes you a much more conscientious resident of your own country and global citizen of the world, there might be a plethora of reasons why you choose to pack your bag and leave for Timbuktu (actually choose someplace safer in the world at the moment than Timbuktu). The most common reasons that I have encountered for folks to live somewhere else seem to be: 1) to study 2) to work 3) to follow  a love interest 4) to seek (and find) adventure 5) to experience something completely different than one’s homeland (see 1-4 above) or 6) they simply got lost (intentionally or accidentally) and stayed.

With the advent of social media, being an expat has definitely become easier over the years. Not only can you connect with other expats over social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, you can also stay connected with your native homeland via Skype, Whatsapp or whatever else you may be using.

View of rooftops of Vienna and Burgtheater

View of rooftops of Vienna and Burgtheater

Some folks move abroad and become native before they’ve even mastered the phrase Oachkatzlschwoaf. Others move and create the world-at-home abroad. They live in communities where most of their neighbors are expats as well, join social groups with the same people and never learn a single word of the native language. They shop in the grocery stores that have the products from home and tune in to all the US shows over iTunes and Netflix. Now more than ever, you can create your own little American haven in just about any corner of the world. I have even witnessed with my very own eyes — I kid you not, hand on heart, pinky promise — fellow Americans (yes, it’s true, my own countrymen and ladies) living in Europe who actually still drink (American!!) Budweiser. (Now the Czech Budweis would be a different story). If that isn’t a sure sign of bull-headed refusal to let your hair down and go even a little native, I don’t know what is. And that’s a pity because if that’s you, you are definitely missing out on more than very good beer so all-natural that hangovers are history.

So what is an upright global citizen to do? Go native in the beginning – maybe the first 6 months or so — and then gradually ease up and mix a dash of fellow expats into your native brew. The problem is that if you don’t go native at first, you may never integrate yourself into the host country and your experience abroad will be like Apfelstrudel without the Schlag, Starsky without Hutch, the yin without the yang. But if you manage a healthy mix of the two, the sky’s the limit and you are bound to form some of life’s most-lasting and strongest bonds. Because nothing says true friendship like a mutual lack of understanding for the humor of Narrisch Guat .

Top 10 things expats should do to get the ultimate experience:

1) Learn the native language – no and, ifs, buts about it. You must or you will never fit in – check out the “Austrian Phrase of the Week” and “Word of the Week” on this site too.

2) Dress like a local – though Dirndls are only worn in Vienna for special events, no one will hold it against you if you can’t resist donning one to the Heurigen or someplace else. Who can ever be angry at a dirndl-clad expat? The charm factor is too disarming.

3) Read local news media and watch local news– highly recommend “Der Standard” but if your German is not up to speed, indulge in the Krone or gratis subway paper Heute. You have a good excuse to look at a paper with more pictures than words and a page three image that would make Oma blush. And why yes, Austria does indeed now have more TV stations than ORF 1 and 2. Then again, if you are dutifully paying your ORF fees (as you should and must!), you definitely want to try to get your money’s worth and there’s more to that than Bergdoktor and Colombo re-runs. Maybe, though, opt for ORF 3 – that’s where the public money is seriously put to good use.

4) Listen to the local radio stations – Ö1 is kind of like NPR and has great reports at noon each day. Ö3 is what is popular while Superfly and FM4 are a bit more hip and chilled.

5) Read local authors – old and new — to get into the mentality of how your new neighbors tick, see the world, and maybe even you. For Austrian authors, try Arthur Schnitzler for older stuff and some soul searching, Torberg for some more good stuff from the 20th century (particularly Der Schüler Gerber, and Auch das war Wien, Wolf Haas for some light, modern but humorous crime stories that take place in Vienna, Peter Altenberg for some 1900 poetry, Karl Kraus for a critical, almost cynical view of pre-WW I Vienna, Adolf Loos for some well-written turn of the century (but still apt) essays criticizing society, Erich Fried for some terribly romantic and often tortured love poems, and and and… No excuses, get to Thalia and lose yourself in the Austrian literature section (at Wien Mitte they are even open on Sundays).

6) Listen to the local music (no matter how painful David Hasselhof’s love songs may be) – for a real treat turn on Radio Wien and you might become convinced you’ve entered a time machine back to the 60s and 70s.

7) Get to know the locals by joining some kind of group – running, reading, cooking, yodeling, there must be something you want to learn. Or get a dog if you live in Vienna – this is a 100% surefire way to engage locals in daily conversation.

8) Celebrate the local holidays. And in Austria there’s so many to choose from and don’t forget to invite the locals to yours. Nothing says Thanksgiving like a group of people from 5 different nations, sitting around the living room in a post-turkey daze, politely feigning excitement at the pumpkin pie coming their way.

9) Eat and cook the local cuisines (though you can always claim to be allergic to Blutwurst, Hirn mit Ei, Leberpastete, and Beuschel and no one would think any worse of you).

10) Have a positive outlook and be willing to laugh at yourself, your mishaps and any steps backwards you might definitely will take.

Once you integrate, connect with those back home via social media, online chats and phone conversations, instagram, youtube and  – my favorite – podcasts.

And how do you meet up with those who are also far away from home? Check out organizations like this one:

Living in AustriaThey were created over 10 years ago and have gone worldwide and currently boast more than 1.5 million members with 6000 in Austria. They regularly organize meet-ups and have lots of blog posts about anything you’d ever want to know about anything else.

Another resource you might want to check out is a rather new site called Flying Yak (where you’ll find me as a voluntary “ambassador”): flyingyak.com

But no matter how you go about it — be sure to make lots of great memories!

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Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts to Rock Me Amadeus

“In Berlin so many people are out walking, that you meet up with no one. In Vienna you meet up with so many people that no one is out walking.” – Karl Kraus (In Berlin gehen so viele Leute, dass man keinen trifft. In Wien trifft man so viele Leute, dass keine geht)

1)      Don’t mix up Australia and Austria

Don’t even joke about it. The joke’s just old. Older than a worn out record. Granted – if you made it the whole way here, you must realize you won’t be finding any koalas hanging out in the chestnut trees along Prater Allee. That being said, if you expect to receive any kind of mailing while here, be sure to advise the sender to write “EUROPE” in big bold letters across the bottom of the envelope. The kangaroo image Australian postal employees stamp onto Austrian mail that has detoured its way Downunder might be adorable evidence of the Aussie sense of humor but is little consolation for the extra month you will have to wait till your mail finally arrives.

 2)      Don’t Call Austrians Germans

Don’t. I’m not kidding. Austrians are touchy about this for many reasons but I think it is also similar to Canadians who are mistaken for US Americans and New Zealanders who are mistaken for Australians. It’s that big neighbor complex. Austrians speak Austrian German and would never be caught dead humming a hymn honoring Kaiser Wilhelm. They seem to feel an affinity towards that Bavarians but I suspect it has something to do with the shared love of Lederhosen.

Salzburg - Mozart's Birthplace

Salzburg – Mozart’s Birthplace

3)      Do Feel Free to Austrianize Beethoven 

Pasqualatihaus - Beethoven Residence in Vienna's 1st District

Pasqualatihaus – Beethoven Residence in Vienna’s 1st District

Beethoven was born in 1770 in Bonn, Germany but came to Austria to study under Mozart at age 17 but had to leave before he could begin his tutoring only to return in 1792 (aged 21) to study under Haydn. He then stayed in Vienna until he died in 1827. In Vienna, you can visit places he lived, played concerts, and hung out. Though he moved about 70 times while in Vienna to different places in the city, he considered Austria his “Wahlheimat” (chosen homeland). And between you and me, Mozart’s Austrian citizenship is disputable because he was from Salzburg, which was actually the independent Archbishopric of Salzburg from his birth 1756 until his death in 1791. But I strongly advise you to keep this our little secret. No one has to know. What good would it do to bring it up?

 4)      Don’t confuse the Von Trapps with the Brady Bunch

Yes, you might go to Mondsee and do the Sound of Music tour. And if you are feeling romantic, book yourself a room in Villa Trapp if you can navigate the supposedly English version of the their website that only appears in German and has no prices. Austrians might love raindrops on roses, Edelweis and Schnitzel but they won’t break out in a round of Do-Re-Mi at the first sight of the Untersberg Mountain. Most Austrians will have never seen The Sound of Music nor will they know anything about it. So if the Alps inspire you, Climb Every Mountain till your heart’s content but don’t expect the Austrians to join you in harmony.

 5)      Do mention Vienna’s High Quality of Life

Vienna Museum of Natural History

Vienna Museum of Natural History

In 2014, for the fifth consecutive year (!), Vienna ranked the world’s number one most livable city. Yeap! Number one, not two, not three, not four! And Viennese are rather humble about this but will definitely appreciate your knowing it. http://www.cnbc.com/id/101423558. Perhaps it is a good little secret like the second district and Karmelitermarkt once used to be.

 6)      Do mention soccer and beloved Austrian player, David Alaba

“How about that soccer game.” He plays as defender for Bayern, Munich, and the Austrian national soccer team. His charming smile is bound to disarm you just like his attacking prowess does his opponents. He stars on billboards, in commercials and all over the place. The Austrians LOVE their Alaba. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Alaba And if you know Hans Krankl and Cordoba, then you are really good and the Austrians will soon be buying you the beers.

 7)      Do Know the Viennese Philharmonic Orchestra

Famous for a reason. The Austrians are understandably proud of their Viennese musicians. And in a place that has served as the breeding ground for centuries of musical talents, one would expect nothing less. Viennese audiences are notorious for their strict standards. Artistic pieces celebrated the world over often prove just good enough for the Viennese audience. And every New Year’s the Viennese Philharmonic Orchestra rings in the New Year to a sold out house at the Musikverein in Vienna. Brush up on your concert facts and impress your country hosts: https://www.wienerphilharmoniker.at/new-years-concert/history

 8)      Do know your coffee

Melange in Kleines Cafe, Vienna, Franziskanerplatz

Melange in Kleines Cafe, Vienna, Franziskanerplatz

This means do not even attempt to order a decaffeinated coffee in the world capital of coffeehouses. And should you eye a Starbucks, that is NOT a traditional Viennese coffeehouse. They have cool souvenir mugs and great chocolate chip cookies but are incomparable to the centuries old Viennese institution. Check out more on my blog post on Viennese coffeehouses.

 9)      Do smile at their Fipsis

Viennese love their dogs. Smile at their dog as you pass by and I guarantee the owner will smile back at you. Smile at the owner and the chance of a return smile reduces to about 50/50. Trust me on this. And if you want to engage Viennese in a conservation or meet the locals, try taking a dog for a walk. Come to think of it, maybe the city should offer rent-a-dogs to increase chance encounters between visitors and locals.

 10)   When you see someone you know, stop, say hello and shake hands

Austrians are more formal than a pass and greet though this is starting to ease up a little. So if you see someone you know, you actually walk up to them, shake their hand and greet them. Simply ducking your head or waving can be construed as rude. And if an Austrian greets in the breakfast room of a hotel or an elevator please do yourself a favor and greet them back loud and clear. They get annoyed when these friendly overtones are ignored. And rightly so. That being said, neighbors you can simply greet but be sure to actually do so. So remember, when you

Leopoldsberg - Vienna

Leopoldsberg – Vienna – the perfect place of a Sunday walk

get into an elevator at a smaller office or hotel, it is not uncommon to greet the others in the elevator and also say good-bye as you leave. The tricky part is knowing when to do so and when not. If you notice others doing it, then do it too. In the countryside, if at a small shop, greet when you go in and say good-bye as you leave. Always err on the side of politeness.

And if all else fails, invite them for a Grüner Vetliner (and be sure it’s Austrian – probably Wachau and a “young” wine).

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