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10 Things I Get Now – Austria’s Hidden Gems

When the realization is deep, your whole being is dancing. – Zen saying

1) Sundays, Holidays, midnight – forget the beer, milk or bread run, everything’s closed. So sleep in, everything’s closed!: When you first move here, you open your college-sized fridge Sunday morning to find nothing but a tube of mustard and an expired container of yoghurt, and naïvely believe you’ll start the day shopping. You make your way to Billa to find it closed, and then to Spar – closed, until the reality of life in Austria slowly begins to dawn on you – nothing here is open 24 hours a day / 7 days a week. 7/11? Nope. Not here. In fact, grocery stores usually close by 8 pm Mo – Fr, by 6 pm on Saturday and don’t bother opening at all on Sundays (and you were indignant about the blankets covering the alcohol section in Lowe’s grocery store in NC on Sundays till noon hampering your barbecue drink run). At first you’re annoyed, and then, when you find yourself urgently needing that Dirndl for the Almdudlerball but with no time between work and “Gassi gehen” with Rambo-the-Dachsund to buy one, you feel the ever increasing pang of homesickness and longing for a Super Target. But after a good deal of time (yes, it takes time), you will start to appreciate this anti-shopper mentality. You wake up on Sundays bombarded with no suggestions to go shopping — because you can’t – everything is closed. And this leaves you with 24 glorious hours for a leisurely breakfast – or hey! why don’t you sleep in a little longer and just do  brunch – and then what? A stroll to see the roses in Volksgarten, an afternoon at the Albertina, a bike ride along the Danube, an outing to the Wachau, a trip to see Iqhwa at Schönbrunn Zoo or simply “Faulenzen.” If you get really desperate, you can engage in the favorite Viennese Sunday contact sport of “Elbow-Shopping-at-Billa-at-Pratersten or Sparring-Shoppers-at-Spar-at-Wien-Mitte” but I’d let this crutch go and count your blessings that no one expects you to shop on a Sunday.

Bratlfettenbrot

Bratlfettenbrot

2) Bratlfettenbrot: Remember deep fryers and Crisco shortening? Kind of like that. Dark bread slathered with a spread made from the pan grease and topped with a couple raw onion rings, crushed black pepper and paprika. If you prefer the crunchy bits of grease in it, there’s always – Grammelschmalzbrot. It took me many years, a New Year’s eve in an Alpine hut with a group of friends and apricot schnapps, to fully appreciate the appeal of Bratlfettenbrot. In the right setting, with the right people and accompanying drinks, it truly is good (unless your arteries tend to clog).

3) grocery carts with coins: maybe it’s because I can never seem to find the 50 cent, 1 € or 2 € coins but for a long time, chained together grocery carts that can only be released with a coin seemed like the Austrian reminder that I, as an expat, arriving at the store with no grocery cart coin in hand, didn’t have my Billa shopper act together. But carts always abound and are neatly put away, and awaiting even the latest last minute expats rushing through the doors Saturday night at 5:50 pm.

4) buy your grocery bags: Reminder number two of poor grocery store planning skills occurs frequently at the check-out line with the realization that one has brought no backpack, linen bags, wicker shopping basket, or shopping trolley. But find comfort in the fact that by bringing along your linen bag, you are being environmentally friendly and saving yourself the 10 cents per bag you’ll be charged otherwise.

5) pay WC: see grocery cart problem above. But here you have the issue at rest stops along the Autobahn and it’s not like you’re given a lot of alternatives. Over time, however, I’ve come to appreciate the cleanliness 50 cents per person can promote in public restrooms. A bit of a hassle for a lot of clean.

6) main meal at lunch: in the good old days, Austrian shops, banks, post offices, all closed for two hours around noon and if you needed to quickly send off a letter during your lunch break, you were out of luck because Frau Postbeamterin was at home having herself some Knödel and Kraut with the family. Though those days have long passed, you will find that high noon on the weekends is many Austrians favored time for the day’s main meal. Dinner will often consist of some bread and cold cuts, soup or salad. Though I initially missed my evening tacos, I’ve come to appreciate a place where I can go for a stroll along the Donaukanal or a run in Prater, hours after my mid-day lasagna and get a good sleep without worries of heart burn, indigestion, or an amply-sized gut.

7) having to ask for the bill: when you first come to Austria, and your German is iffy at best, it’s understandable that you want to avoid all situations where you are forced to use any. In an attempt to go native in China, I once ventured into a local restaurant and after memorizing the word for tea, proudly ordered a tea. Instead of just bringing any tea, the waitress insisted over and over again, to little ignorant not-understanding me that I choose which tea I’d prefer (know the expression: not for all the tea in China – later I discovered page one of the menu  was dedicated to teas). The waitress walked away in frustration and I fled to find a Pizza Hut. If you choose to flee an Austrian restaurant when the waiter fails to bring your bill, I guarantee you, your bill will arrive promptly. (But I am by no means endorsing this method). But you should know, that Austrian, particularly Viennese waiters, are experts at giving you time to sit, relax, eat, drink a coffee, enjoy a schnapps, chat a bit, and not have to be bothered with the bill until you’re good and ready for it. After living here awhile, you’ll be shocked by the passive-aggressive speediness of bills slapped down on your table in US restaurants before you’ve even had the chance to shuffle the first spoonful of peach cobbler into your mouth.

8) removing shoes: you always remove your shoes when entering an Austrian home and even if the host insists you don’t have to (etiquette almost requires this but it is not meant seriously), you should remove them anyway. As someone who always seems to have a hole in her socks, this was always a bit embarrassing. I’ve learned to wear good socks or none at all and I appreciate not having shoes tracking dirt through my place when I have guests.

9) dogs in Vienna: it seems like every second Viennese owns a Scruffy and they go everywhere – restaurants, subways, they even have their own parks here. I just didn’t get it. Particularly in the days that required every person living in Vienna to do the infamous “Vienna shuffle” to avoid taking home a Scruffy souvenir on the bottom of your shoe before the very successful clean-up-after-your-dog campaigns. But since the “Nimm ein Sackerl für mein Gackerl” campaign that included hundreds of city dog-poo sheriffs controlling the dog owner’s clean up obedience and the 36 € fine for first time offenders if they “overlooked” it, dogs seem to be tidy co-inhabitants of this metropolis. And apparently 70% of the Viennese agree with me about the campaign’s phenomenal success and 47,200 Gackerl Sackerl in Vienna’s public trash cans every single day is nothing to turn your nose up at. And if you want to make friends and influence people in Vienna, get a dog. I’ve seen Omas chatting up bicycle gang members while Oma’s Daisy sniffs out Bicycle Gang Member’s Rambo.

soccer

Gotta love soccer

10) Soccer: I’m originally a Pittsburgh girl so sports consisted of baseball, football, hockey and hunting. Soccer? Pleease. Get a real sport. But I’m a convert. I love the game. And I explained why a while ago on my post about the World Cup. What’s not to like about 22 fit guys flexing their tone bodies in an attempt to get a ball into a net? Not to mention the fun of watching a roomful (or barful) of grown men waving their beer glasses and griping at a TV screen about all the off-sides the idiot ref missed. Print This Post

Interesting Links:
The Gackerl Sackerl App to help you find a free bag for your dog’s – well – you know: https://www.data.gv.at/anwendungen/gackerl-sackerl/

This guy ended up paying a whopping 470 € fine for not having a Sackerl for his Kessja (the criminal offender is pictured in the article with her owner). http://www.heute.at/news/oesterreich/wien/art23652,1016678

Article about the success of the Gackerl Sackerl campaign – warning: if you’re sensitive about images, you may not want to click on the link: http://www.krone.at/Tierecke/Wiener_Gackerl-Sackerl-Kampagne_ist_ein_Erfolg-Laut_Umfrage-Story-390372

Article about the Vienna “Waste Watchers”, fines and law: http://www.wien-konkret.at/leute/haustiere-tierschutz/hundekot-in-wien-hundstruemmerl/

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Soccer Bashing: Ann Coulter and our Nation’s Moral Decay

Following is my 942-word response to Ann Coulter’s 943-word nonsense

Dear Ms. Coulter,

As a US citizen living abroad, I have been spared your opinion pieces. However, this changed recently when a friend, no doubt upset by his inability to attend the public viewing of the US-Germany game at a Vienna beach bar, forwarded your piece entitled, “America’s Favorite National Pastime: Hating Soccer.”

He was surprised (and maybe concerned) when it failed to provoke the highly anticipated “pithy” response. Until now.

Forgive the delay but on the evening of June 26, I was too busy to read your article. The beach bar showing the game was so full that we had to go to the next. And then the next. And the next. All the bars Thursday night, the entire length of the Danube canal, were overflowing with Americans caped in Stars and Stripes and Germans decked out in everything German. All in a country that didn’t even make it to the World Cup.

Spring 2014 - all of Panama City stops to watch the Real Madrid - Barcelona soccer game

Spring 2014 – all of Panama City stops to watch the Real Madrid – Barcelona soccer game

Today, together with a room full of people from three continents and four nations, I anxiously held my breath as five individual players from Brazil and Chile each faced off the other team’s goalie in a penalty shootout that would determine who would move into the quarter finals.

Never seen a penalty shootout, Ms. Coulter? Imagine if not just New York City, or New York State, but the entire United States of America sat in anticipation as you alone tried to angle a ball just right so that it would soar 11 meters past a goalie and into a net as hundreds of millions (maybe even billions?) around the world looked on. (FYI: eleven meters is about eleven times the distance from the floor to a doorknob). Your ear drums vibrate to the beat of “USA! USA!”

No individual achievement? But what if you don’t? What if you miss? You’re not just playing for New York, you’re playing for the entire country.

That’s exactly what happened to Gonzalo Jara today. The entire hopes of Chile rested on his shoulders as he swung his leg and kicked the ball. And what happened? It bounced against the right post and flew back across the goal, missing the net. His teammates collapsed and Mineirão Stadium — all of Brazil — exploded in a blaze of yellow and blue. “BRAZIL WINS!!!!!”

Don’t think Jara left the field with a ribbon and a juice box.

And soccer’s heroes? Pelé, Messi, Ronaldo. Ever heard of them? Well, I’d venture they’ve never heard of Coulter either. But soccer’s most legendary kickers are recognized the world over. Soccer unites. The world knows it but we Americans are unfortunately slow in “getting it.”

You seriously believe that the increasing popularity of a universally beloved sport is evidence of our nation’s “moral decay”? Well if that’s the case, can you clarify some points for me since I read and re-read your article and still don’t quite get how soccer = moral decay. I’ve noted your concerns and posed some comments/questions

(1)    team spirit = moral decay? The US Constitution also seems rather group-oriented though, don’t you think? “We the People….. more perfect Union, … common defence, … general Welfare”

(2)    gender equality = moral decay? Let’s skip this since I read somewhere that your relationship “with the feminine is complicated”

(3)    soccer has scoreless ties (sometimes but not always — the knock out portion of the World Cup allows no ties – see penalty shootout above)

(4)    lack of humiliation / “warfare”: Because humiliation and warfare are always moral – is that your point?

(5)    lack of hands: Hand activities are moral activities? And the goalie? And hockey?

(6)    popularity amongst a US minority: Because majority rules and minority should be squashed?

(7)    it’s “foreign”: so are Irish last names

(8)  it uses the metric system: like NASA. BTW, the CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/body-measurements.htm), shows the average waist circumference for a man in the last 20 years is 39.7 inches, not 32 (meaning your recommended yard “guesstimates” are nearly 20% off). And this leads me back to your fifth point: if you desperately want to distinguish yourself from lesser beasts by using your hands, why don’t you just give a thumbs-up to a sport that can combat larger waists by offering yet another physical alternative to the wildly popular one involving couch-fridge-couch laps.

(9)    that it might be “catching on” in the US

I grew up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, PA that lived for sports. When the family dog had puppies, we named them Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier, Lynn Swan and Mean Joe Greene. I cheered one for the thumb in 81 and learned the Pittsburgh Steelers Polka at school. I love “American” football.

My passion for the game has remained undeterred by the less enlightened I’ve encountered over the years who criticize the slowness of a game that includes a mini Kaffeeklatsch after every down. When the Steelers made it to Super XLV in 2011, I secured tickets to the Vienna Marriot Super Bowl party where I madly waved my Terrible Towel above a sea of Green Bay Packer Cheeseheads. The Steelers may have lost but I went home in the wee hours of the morning a happy camper. American football was “finally catching on” abroad.

I promise you, Ms. Coulter, that my great-grandfather’s great-grandfather was born in the US and I love soccer AND football. One can only hope that, in addition to some genuine interest in the real threats to our “nation’s moral decay,” the less enlightened of my fellow countrymen (and women) will stop spreading their closed-minded nonsense and embrace our role on the world’s athletic stage.

And the next time the urge strikes you to write about soccer? Please don’t.

Warm regards from beautiful Vienna,

KC

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For readers fortunate enough to have missed it — Ann Coulter’s article about soccer: http://www.anncoulter.com/columns/2014-06-25.html

Forbe magazine’s Maury Brown gives an admirable response to Ms. Coulter entitled, “How Miss Coulter Lost Her Mind Over World Cup Soccer”: http://www.forbes.com/sites/maurybrown/2014/06/26/how-ann-coulter-lost-her-mind-over-world-cup-soccer/

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