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This past week when I emailed my work colleagues that Peter Cottontail had stopped by and left goodies in the kitchen, half ignored the message and the other half actually questioned who this generous Mr. Cottontail was and why he was leaving us all chocolate bunnies and colored eggs. When I responded that he had hippity-hopped his way down the bunny trail just to make a special stop, my colleagues were kind enough not to suggest that the extended Easter Holiday break might do me some good.

Though Peter Cottontail’s bunny trail may usually bypass the land of Schnitzel and Strudel, Austrians and Americans share many Easter traditions. We all dye Easter eggs, decorate our places with pussy willows, consume some kind of ham on Easter Sunday and give Easter baskets with enough sweets and chocolates to ensure post-sugar meltdowns all that way into summer. Sure the Easter Bunny comes for Easter, but in Austria the furry fellow looks and acts like a real rabbit whereas in the US, the Easter Bunny looks like some character who just escaped from Disneyworld.

But those Austrians, the gemütlich folk that they are, just had to one-up us on Easter traditions with Easter Monday. That’s right. Not only is Sunday a public holiday here, but Monday is too. As if five weeks of paid vacation a year ain’t enough.

But thank goodness Monday’s a holiday. It gives us an extra day to remember to move the clocks forward and sorely needed recovery time from marzipan-lamb hangover and Billa battle wounds from Saturday afternoon’s grocery store visit. Because if you’ve lived here long enough, you’ll realize that the extra day off means that all grocery stores will be closed from 5 pm Saturday until 7 am Tuesday. This in turns means that the Saturday shopping trip requires a gathering of supplies for the hunkered-down weekend and you and all other expats, immigrants and tourists will be descending on Billa at five to five on Saturday afternoon in a mad dash for the very last loaf of bread (carrot with whole wheat?) and organic-happy-cow-long-lasting milk. Pretend like you’re back in North Carolina and they just announced a hurricane warning and you’ll be in your element.

And if the grocery store isn’t enough to get your adrenaline pumping, then it’s time for another Austrian tradition that is kicking and screaming to make its way to the country of monster trucks, mud wrestling and nude beach Olympics. Quit tossing those eggs. Get rid of the spoons and lose the running shoes. You’re a grown-up now. Time for a grown-up Easter sport. Time for some… Egg Boxing!

Sure the Austrians quaintly call it “Eierpecken” – egg pecking. But we’re Americans, dang rabbit! And when we import a holiday tradition, we give it an injection of testosterone and a punch of raw brutality.

Tired of hearing about cousin Charlie’s new candy-red Ferrari La Ferrari? Put him in his place this coming Easter Sunday and challenge him man-to-man to an egg-boxing contest to see what old Chuckie’s really made of.

So tune in tomorrow where I got you covered with all you need to become the very next hard-boiled egg boxing champion – exclusively here: EGG BOXING 101 – The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Winning Egg Boxer

Also check out some previous Easter posts:
Vienna’s Easter Markets

When the Bells Fall Silent and Fly to Rome: Holy Thursday to Easter Night

Who can resist the Egg Bear – Austrian word of the week



Five weeks. Let’s just get that out of the way at the very beginning. Austrians get FIVE WEEKS OF VACATION by law. That’s vacation. Paid. No funny-math-calculated HR schemes that combine sick days with holidays plus fire drills or whatever days. Nope. 5 weeks off.

Recovered from that shock? Good. Here’s the next doozy.

That doesn’t include the public holidays.

As a historically Catholic country, Austria has lots of saint days and other important church events that need to be solemnly remembered without the drone of copy machines and the buzz of Outlook reminders to cloud the experience. So how many public holidays are there per year here? 13.5 — plus a day extra for certain religious groups.

So someone working 5 days a week, is entitled to 25 vacation days + 13.5 public holidays  = a whopping 38.5 days off a year. Who wouldn’t be inspired to climb every mountain and ford every stream?

So perhaps think again before you angle that computer cam to reflect the shine of those ice-cubes floating in your sweet tea and the slight lifting of your bangs gently fluttering back and forth from the air vent showering a cool breeze over your cubicle. Sure it might be fun to torture those European project partners and American friends dripping and melting abroad without air con. But next week, and perhaps the week after that, and maybe the week after that and perhaps another week in October and maybe a skiing week in February, they could be laying under palm trees, dining on Moussaka, sipping some Tuscany out of a bottle and hitting the fresh powdery slopes, while you, my dear, cool, air-conditioned friend, are chained to the grinding stone in the only advanced economy in the world that does not require paid vacation time.

Buttercup, Sloth, Sloth Sanctuary

Buttercup certainly knows how to hang out and enjoy her free time

Yep, Mother Abbess gave good advice. Climb every mountain and ford every stream. Because whether you are Maria strumming on your guitar in an abbey in Salzburg, or Buttercup lazing in your cafe (no wait, she’s in Costa Rica) or Mario stocking Billa shelves in Vienna’s 10th district, Austria has made sure you’d have the time off to follow every rainbow until you find your dreams. Print This Post

Forbes’s Article about US’s Disappearing Vacation Days

Forbe’s Article – US The Only Advanced Economy That Does Not Require Employers to Provide Paid Vacation Time

For more cute animal photos from my vacation following my dream to meet Buttercup – check out my Facebook page.


Thanksgiving 101 for Non-Americans – Top Ten Lesser-Known Facts

Dedicated to all Non-Americans in the USA who will celebrate Thanksgiving: Because I know what it’s like to be in a foreign country and have no idea what’s going on and wish someone had given me a quick run down on the essentials.

1) A Journey of a Thousand Delays begins with a Single Step – Score a Free Flight Voucher by being a Good Samaritan

Thanksgiving is one of the heaviest travel holidays of the year. This means that whether you are driving, flying or dog-sledding your way to Thanksgiving dinner, expect delays. Consider being a savvy traveler willing to take advantage of the chaos by booking your departure earlier than intended. This will allow you to be the kindly passenger who, out of the goodness of his/her heart, graciously offers to sacrifice his/her seat to the frantic lady from Jackson ready to hurl her QVC handbag at the poor Southwest “Hi-I’m-Alison” girl that just told Jackson purse murderess that the flight is overbooked. You step in and become hero of the day and entitled to a free ticket voucher. Not that the free tickets or cash you rack up as a volunteer for a later flight had anything to do with your willingness to be a good Samaritan. And all good Samaritans need a place to sleep so don’t forget to ask about that either if you have to stay an extra day.

2) All relatives far and wide plus any strays and always room for more

Thanksgiving is THE holiday when all great aunts and not-so-great relatives from Anchorage, Alaska, to Auborn, Alabama converge on Auntie Em’s 1964 ranch house in Arkadelphia, Arkansas to stuff themselves with over-bloated turkeys and mushroom soup green beans baked with a crust of cornflakes. Thanksgiving supersedes in size and chaos other holidays such as Easter and Christmas when families are less apt to travel and prefer smaller gatherings. Thanksgiving is also the holiday when all upstanding citizens of the home of the free and brave believe it their god-given civic duty as  to ensure EVERYONE gets their share of stuffing and potatoes. Accept that if asked, you must comply. The only acceptable excuse for not attending a dinner is proof that you’ve already accepted an invitation to turkey elsewhere. And if you pick up another stray foreigner on your way to dinner, no worries. Bring ‘em along. Auntie Em can always get Uncle Frank to haul in the picnic table from the back porch and make room for more.

 3) Thou Shallt Not Go Hungry and Must Have Pie

Thanksgiving turkey beauty

Thanksgiving turkey beauty

There will be lots and lots of food and then more food. Forget the diet. Rather than take normal portions, try a bit of everything because every dish probably stems from a different relative and you want to make sure each relative gets sufficient praise for his/her specific dish. Which brings me to the next point.

 4) “I’ll bring the corn slime and you bring the yams with marshmallows”

On Thanksgiving, the host will make the turkey but everyone else offers to bring a dish. This is done by simply asking the host what you should bring. If the host tells you, ‘Nothing but yourself,’ don’t fall for it. You don’t have to feverishly search for traditional Thanksgiving dishes. Bring something typical from your country– they’ll love it. Guaranteed. Especially if it’s not skewered guinea pigs.

 5) So what? Even if it is an Acquired Taste – You MUST eat the pumpkin pie! Seriously!

OK, I have celebrated enough Thanksgivings with non-Americans to know that –sadly – the American passion for pumpkin pie is not universally shared. Yes, it’s pumpkin. Yes, pumpkin is a squash. Yes, we mix it with sugar, condensed milk and cinnamon and then slap on a mountain of whipped cream and call it desert. Yes, it has a not-pudding-and-not-solid mushy kind of slimy consistency. And yes, we seriously do love it. So if you don’t have a thing for it, politely request a smaller slice buried in plenty of whipped cream to hide the color, taste and texture. And if you are really not into it, ask for it to go because you simply ate much too much but would hate to pass it up. Whatever you do, under no circumstances shall you blurt out your aversion to pumpkin pie.  Trust me. Just don’t.

 6)  There will be Football

There will be a TV on during the holiday feast and it will be tuned to a football game. Uncle Kenny might be the only one watching from his rocking chair in the corner of the den and randomly give a hoop at the touch downs while calling out play-by-plays to the kitchen. He will intermittently be joined by other male attendees at various stages of the game. View it as your opportunity to get a breather from all the cheek pinching. Grab a beer and join Uncle Kenny. The two of you will be left alone in your invisible little man cave in the middle of the chaos only to be interrupted by servings of apple pie and almond-flavored coffee.


Pres. Lydon Johnson pardons the turkey in 1967

Pres. Lydon Johnson pardons the turkey in 1967

7) Cobbler and Gobbler

Cobbler and Gobbler were the two lucky fowls pardoned by President Obama in 2012. Here is a list of the others and their subsequent fowl fates:

Every year one turkey is pardoned by the US President and no one knows why or ever asks if that means that the presidential family is eating chicken. That’s not important. Important is to know that that’s the way it is and since it might be mentioned in passing during the dinner, you should know who Cobbler and Gobbler or whoever the lucky duck – turkey – is that year.

 8) Grace is usually said

At most Thanksgiving dinners, someone will be elected to say grace. You should pray in advance that it’s not you. If it is you, bow your head, adopt a solemn tone and be thankful for all the food and good friends. This should get you a nod of approval from Auntie Em. Now, in many households, part of saying grace includes holding hands. So don’t get anxious if Aunt Cath suddenly grabs hold of you at the table. She’s not getting fresh unless it’s after the first bite.

 9) “So do they have refrigerators there?”

Statistically speaking, you get so many relatives together in one place, there’s just bound to be a lose nut in the bunch, or one who’s just living on the edge of Wackoville or simply severely deficient in social intelligence. Every family has it’s black sheep or two. Or three or four. So if you are from the Caucus and the high-honor-roll nephew asks if that’s where all Caucasians come from; from Austria, and Uncle Bert comments on his life-long love of kangaroos; from Venice and Nanna inquires about window blinds or from the Republic of Georgia and cousin Joe exclaims that they’ve flown through Atlanta once, please don’t take offense. It’s really just friendly (albeit ignorant) loving folks with good intentions and absolutely zero geographical knowledge trying to connect with you.

10) The Hangover

As you drive home from your first turkey dinner, in addition to the relief you’ll feel over your achievement of successfully surviving your first Thanksgiving feast and having the experience behind you (for at least a year), you will feel an extreme grogginess engulf your entire being. You will wonder how you will ever wrestle yourself out of bed at 4 am to get to the super Black Friday sale down at the local Get-it-Now Mart and you will suspect that Auntie Em is popping sleeping pills into her cranberries to outrace you at the Elf-on-a-Shelf giveaway. But Auntie Em will tell you it’s just the tryptophan in the turkey. Then some know-it-all on the ever-blaring TV will refute her claim and say it’s just because you’ve overeaten. But I would stick by Auntie Em’s turkey wisdom. After all, you want to be invited back next year when you will have mastered Thanksgiving 101 and be first in line for some pumpkin pie.

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Happy Father’s Day

“On behalf of every man
Looking out for every girl
You are the god and the weight of her world
So fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do…”
– John Mayer, “Daughters”

Me and My Dad

Me and My Dad

Today marks Father’s Day in Austria but you are unlikely to see too many Austrian Papas during the Pfingsten holiday tomorrow bending over their shiny new envy-inducing deluxe gargantuan grills. Dads here will be lucky to get some special breakfast and a “Happy Father’s Day” let alone some cool socks and a cooler full of ice-cold Ottakringers. Father’s Day in Austria has been celebrated since 1956. However, as an Austrian children’s website states (, unfortunately it is still not considered particularly significant. Maybe it’s because, for many Austrian Dads, every day is still father’s day evidenced best at 19:30 each evening. While Mom slaves away in the kitchen over the Frittatensuppe, dad props his feet up on the Hocker, flips on ORF 2, and eyes page three of his Krone until he is summoned to the dinner table. But if the amount of guys opting to take their share of maternity leave in this country is any indication, Archie Bunker ( will soon be giving up his armchair in Austria too. The kiwi site thinks that Dads deserve to be honored in Austria, just like in the US, and I couldn’t agree more.

My dad taught me how to throw a baseball, shoot an arrow and change a tire. Together we hunted night crawlers, mowed the grass and attended Indian

Me at Indian Princesses

Me at Indian Princesses

Princess meetings. He read me books, taught me chess and made me a lifelong NPR listener. When I said I wanted to move to Europe after college, rather than talk me out of it, he said, “Well, then you better learn how to drive a stick,” and proceeded to undertake the dangerous mission of training me to do so. My dad was and remains the ultimate world’s best dad. He made me feel like I was the most beautiful, smartest, funniest, most capable person in the universe to him and set me out into the world as someone who had learned from home what it meant to care about others and approach life, open-minded and open-hearted.

THANK YOU, DAD! And Happy Father’s Day! (a week early where you are, and today where I am – though you deserve to be celebrated every day)

And if you’re a dad, be sure to be a great one. You can make a difference that will last a lifetime. Just ask your daughters.

Interesting Tidbits:

Did you know?

According to the “Men on Maternity leave” website and the page “Real Men go on Maternity leave” (, two of three men in Austria want to go on maternity leave and share in the responsibility for raising their kids. A typical arrangement nowadays might include the mom taking 12 months maternity leave and the dad two. But the parents can choose how to split their maternity leave time here and they may even split half -half or dads will take the major chunk.

According to the Austrian magazine “News” ( ), 9000 Austrian men are raising their kids on their own.

According to the Austrian newspaper “Kleine Zeitung” (, a bit more than half of all Austrians celebrate Father’s Day but only a third actually think it is significant. About every 4th Dad gets a present and it is usually something sweet or something with an alcohol content.

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