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Ten Austrian Things I Still Don’t Get

Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.
– Phil, Groundhog Day

1) Villacher Fasching: as presented on ORF2. And if ORF statistics are to be believed, a record-breaking 1.3 million Austrians tuned in this year. Just because you’re fluent enough to understand all the words, doesn’t mean the joke will make you laugh. If you’re a person (like me) who finds clowns to be some of the most petrifying fiends on the planet, you’re bound to agree that the scary-movie version of “Groundhog Day” would be “Villacher Fasching Day” in which every night you go to sleep only to be jarred awake by blaring “Lei-Lei” numbers hailing in another grand day of fun, games, and laughs on Villacher Fasching. It’ll put enough fear into even the naughtiest non-Austrians to compel them to swear strict piety and no Milka during Lent if only the bad jokes will stop already. (Yes to Villach, no to ORF Villacher Fasching).

2) ORF Fees: Though I love the passive aggressive advertisements of the sweet television warning you that you better be paying your required television fees even if you are watching on internet or – God forbid – have a radio stashed behind the rest of your contraband – , and I avidly watch the great shows on ORF III and am a big fan of the Mittagsjournal in Ö1 radio, I still don’t get it. Every month we are required to pay a whopping 24.88 € in fulfillment of our public duty and civic contribution for such other outstanding educationally beneficial, culturally superior shows such as the Villacher Fasching (see 1 above) or this past Saturday night’s Vera in ORF 2 with 82-year old Richard Lugner and his 5th and most recent young wife, the 24-year old (not Hasi (bunny), not Mausi (mouse), not Bambi, not Katzi (kitty)) Spatzi (sparrow!)). ORF III — yes. Spatzi — no.

3) Blunzengröstl, Beuschel and Blutwurst: There are some Austrian foods, namely those containing blood, coagulated blood proteins, heart, lung, spleen and liver that I just don’t get.

4) Sunbathing Nude in Public: If you have the physique of Anna Fenninger or David Alaba— by all means. But let’s face it. The folks perfecting their russet leathery sheen at the “FKK” Areas of the Neue Donau and FKK areas of some Vienna public pools are not contributing to urban beautification or helping the collagen and elastin fibers of their skin either.

5) Screenless Windows: Austria does indeed have mosquitoes and flies. Screens have been known to be effective shields against pesky critters. Just sayin.

6) Width of the Roads and Parking Spaces: Not every car is a Smart but in Austria, it feels like that is exactly the car they used to measure the ideal size of parking spaces and lanes. My initial indignation about the generously-sized Frauenplarkplätze (parking spots designated for women only) has quickly evaporated in the midst of frustrated rants when attempting to squeeze my car between the BMW x5 and Ford Transit at Bauhaus. And don’t look at me like that. I am extremely skilled at parallel parking. Really. It’s not my driving, it’s the lane width. Here – read an article by the German Auto Club that backs me up if you don’t believe me – cars are getting wider and the European parking spaces and lanes are too narrow to accommodate them:

 7) Highway Construction Sites: Same problem as in number six – far too narrow to drive safely but to increase the fun, they route the only lane open right up next to oncoming traffic, which should be going slower but they have yet to do the “double the fine in construction zones” rule here and slower here is maybe 80 km/hr which is still 50 mph in a construction zone, smack up next to Mac trucks barreling toward you with nothing more than some orange traffic cones to keep everyone in line (and forming queues has never been a strong point for most Austrians). And just to up the fun, the construction sites here will last for up to 5 miles long. No, there won’t be any work going on for 4.5 miles of the five, but hey – why not block it all off at once – drivers like that cozy feeling. Along the way are cute little smiley signs that let you know how much further you still have to suffer through the construction – the friendlier the face, the closer you are to the end of the construction end and your wits.

8) Church Taxes – Catholics in Austria pay church taxes. It was introduced here decades ago, and the Catholic church in Austria sees no reason to make it go away. Austrians will get notices from the Catholic church to let them know how much someone of their pay range should be paying in taxes (one year a work colleague of mine became suspicious that she was being underpaid after her Catholic Church tax statement arrived in the mail and estimated her at a higher income level). And if you do something wild and crazy like leave the church and later decide you want to rejoin, say to be the Godparent of a niece or nephew, then the church has been known to remind you of all the back taxes you owe them before you can join the club again. I just don’t get it. Why can Catholics in America be part of the club with or without taxes but in Austria, they’re being forced to pay. Does Pope Francis know about this?

9) Carry-your-pooch-in-a-purse Phenomenon: dogs like to walk, don’t they? Taking-your- dog-for-a walk means you both walk. You and the dog. Right? Am I right? Someone tell me I’m right.

10) The David Hasselhoff Craze: For most Americans, Michael Knight faded into the sunset with his talking car, and Mitch Buchannon took a dive and never popped back up again. But Austrians knew better – “Don’t hassle with Hoff” – he’s everywhere here. Singing, dancing, David-Hasselhoffing around. Seriously. See for yourself: In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he showed up at the Villacher Fasching.

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