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Posts tagged ‘grocery stores’

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.



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.


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:

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).,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:

Article about the Vienna “Waste Watchers”, fines and law:


What Austria is still Missing (Thank goodness)

Fresh off the plane from your jaunt abroad, feet barely brushed the ground in the good old US of A and you feel it tingling up inside you – anticipation. First signs at  passport control – fellow countrymen patiently form a queue. Then the customs agent offers a “Welcome Back.” At baggage claim you stretch because the flight was long, and hey – no one is shoving you aside to grab their bags because everyone has plenty of space. Maybe someone even gives you a hand.

You’re jet-lagged but you don’t want to waste a single minute. You’ve got to do it all. Now. This very second.

A mere 24 hours after you bid the Old Country a sweet “Auf Wiedersehen” and you are moseying on out of the Arctic cooled all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant hauling a stomach that’s consumed twice its capacity in a regrettable stint of frenzied, “Gotta get my money’s worth.” You make your way to your monster-sized vehicle, parked in a space generous enough for two, then sink yourself into your Lazy-Boy recliner driver seat, and ease the automatic gear shift to drive position. Wide roads, no traffic and amiable drivers.


You’re on your way.

And soon. Very soon, you’ll arrive at the most highly anticipated destination – the one place so sorely missed after one too many European encounters of a different kind. You don’t have to drive far. There’s plenty. One in every shopping center. And the time? The day? No worries. It’s open 24/7.

No high fructose corn syrup in these Krapfen

No high fructose corn syrup in these Krapfen

Well, hello again, airport-hanger-sized neighborhood grocery store! Have I missed you!

Have the carts expanded? Should I have brought a down jacket and mittens (in July?)?

In aisle one, the juice section, local high school student, Joe, stocks some shelves in his crisp corporate blue uniform with a spiffy white and red starched collar. His name tag inquires, “How can I help?” and Joe doesn’t disappoint. “Something I can help you with, Ma’am?”

Ma’am? Not miss, but ma’am? Seriously, Joe?

But you’ve elbowed your way through too many grocery stores abroad to be fooled by Joe’s overly enthusiastic willingness to please. He’s no different. Behind that pimpled-faced darling exterior is a cynic waiting to emerge, too young, wide-eyed and hormone stricken to realize that maybe the fun might already be over. For good. Come on, Joe, admit it. You were thinking: Gaping mouth, bulging eyes, this broad looks like she’s never seen a grocery store before. Why do all the crazies shop at midnight on my shift? There must be a better way to earn gas money. This must be what Dad meant when he said, ‘It’ll be good for you, son. Make you work harder in college.’

But who has time for Joe when there’s so many bright happy labels to ponder. Pulp. Extra pulp. Vitamin C fortified. Florida. Sun-kissed. Trendy French labeled. 100 %. Fat free. Sugar free. Diet. Vegan.

I give up.

Zombie mode onwards to aisle 2. Breads. Longer, deeper, wider.

A voice from deep within whispers. What is it saying? Something about a list. Get the list! Yes! A list. You made a list! A guide to lead you through the perilous passages of Giant Eagle to the Undying shelves of peace and pancake mix.

The list. You made a list. Thank you, common sense, me.

See, Joe? Not a case for Bellevue.

And there in various shades of ink, scribbled in the weeks leading up to departure, are all the things Austria just doesn’t got: Doritoes, canned pumpkin, pancake mix, baking soda, liquid vanilla, lifesavers, yellow mustard, hot dog relish, grape jelly, steak sauce. I mean, friends with access to the commissary are high status best buddies – but how often can one request Lays Barbecue Potato Chips before they start playing the avoidance game? (Ricarda, Diana – what’s the answer?)

But there was something else. Another nagging detail important to remember. What was it? Something you have to do when grocery shopping in America that you don’t need to do in Austria. What was it?

Even the whispering subconscious is growing annoyed. The labels. Read the labels. Ahh yes. The labels. And why? Because there’s one big thing that America has that Austria doesn’t. And it’s in everything from bread to juice to granola bars —

High Fructose Corn Syrup

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-corn. I’m pro corn. Fresh corn on the cob probably makes my top 10 favorite foods list. And on my last trip back to PA this past month I was served the world’s very best sweet corn, no question – Schramms freshly picked and shucked that day.

High Fructose Corn Syrup might come from corn but it is not corn. And since I don’t believe the world has gotten slothier and stupider, I do believe something in our food is contributing to the current epidemic facing us. So I happen to believe the serious warnings about the health dangers of HFC.

I miss a lot about America when I’m abroad. But I do not miss the omnipresence of High Fructose Corn Syrup and the effort it takesto find food without it.

The amazing selection in US grocery stores is enough to hold me captive for hours. Add to that the arduous task of scanning the .025 font of ingredient lists in an attempt to weed out the HFC culprits, and my vacation is half over before I ever make my way to the self-check out – where poor Joe really does have to help out this ma’am if he ever wants to be rid of her.

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Some Videos to give you food for thought:

On the evils of High Fructose Corn Syrup and our obsession with sweetness: Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology:

Robert Lustig, MD Ted Talks Video

Corn shucking 101 with Ken: Ken shows you how to shuck corn “clean as a whistle” – I’ve never tried his method. I suspect there must be some valuable vitamins getting nuked in the process but I will give Ken this – he was quicker than I ever was when shucking corn. He also did not make a mess of the front porch while doing so and his cobs are indeed “clean as a whistle.” Besides, I like the corny music and Ken is hoot.

Culture shock, grocery store style from the movie Hurt Locker: