Being a Brit in Vienna : Austrian Culture Shocks
Vienna is one of the most beautiful and scenic places I have ever travelled, and I am truly loving my time living in the coffee capital of the world. But beneath this cool expat exterior, I am a hardcore Brit at heart. I’m a northern lass, and I like my northern things, and Vienna doesn’t exactly cater towards grumpy British people. Fair to say, I’ve experienced my fair share of culture shocks when getting used to life across the pond.
Jaywalking and Road Crossing
I don’t know if ignoring the crossing lights is a British thing, or a me thing, but it certainly doesn’t pass in Vienna. To me, when crossing the road green means go and red means maybe, if the road is clear why not cross? Why does it matter than the man is red?
Vienna is very strict about following road crossing laws, and be ready to risk a jaywalking fine if you do decide to skip the lights. Seriously, there’s traffic officers who stand by the main crossings and enforce this. Imagine a police officer trying to give a chav a ticket for jaywalking anywhere in Britain, they’d get proper mugged off, then probably stabbed.
Also, a side note, keep an eye on the crossing lights for a cute little surprise. In some areas, the normal symbols on the lights are replaced with two men or two women holding hands, in support of LGBT+ rights. It is so adorable.
ATM Walk of Shame
My best advice for Vienna? Carry cash.
I went from somebody who never carried cash in England to only using cash in Vienna, purely because lots of places won’t let you pay on card. It is much easier to just carry at least some loose change around, unless you want to do the walk of shame to the ATM when you don’t have enough cash to cover your coffee.
Also, obvious difference, euros! Personally, I’m loving them, because they’re made of actual paper and not that awful plastic material British notes are cursed with. They stay flat in my purse instead of curling up and being a nightmare, it’s such a ting thing but it makes the world of difference.
Public transport in Vienna works on a trust and honour system, one that would never work in England.
On the trains, trams and buses there are no ticket barriers, and no attendants checking if you have a ticket or not. As a citizen you are trusted to purchase a ticket before you board any form of public transport, and to then validate your own ticket with machine on board (unless you have a weekly/monthly/annual ticket). In England I am sure this wouldn’t go down as well as it does here in Vienna. I’m not saying that British people are untrustworthy, I’m just saying we’re cheap. If there’s a chance we can get away with not paying to get on the tram, we’re probably going to try it.
There is the chance that an inspector will be on board, dressed completely normally so you’ll never expect it. Inspectors appear at random to check if you have a valid ticket, and will slap you with a fine (approx. €60) if you do not. I am yet to encounter an inspector, but I hear they have no time for excuses and there is no way to get out of a ticket.
On top of all this, public transport in Vienna is much better than in England. Transport is quicker, more often, cheaper, more reliable, and cleaner than in Britain. The amount of times my bus hasn’t shown up or all my trains have been delayed while living in England is countless, and this had never been a problem while I’ve been in Vienna.
Doggies Doggies Everywhere
Not all culture shocks are bad, because easily my favourite aspect of Vienna is that dogs are allowed everywhere. Anywhere you go, you will probably see a dog, and it is such a beautiful thing.
No matter where you end up, be it a restaurant or even just public transport, you are most likely to be sharing the space with a furry friend. If me and my host family go out for dinner, the dog will happily sit under the table. More often than not, the dog will even receive better treatment than us, getting showered with treats and bones.
Sunday’s Might As Well Not Exist
In England I got annoyed that Asda closed early on a Sunday, and - oh boy - how I wish I could go back to that.
Sunday is the day that Vienna sleeps, and by that I mean absolutely nothing is open. Need milk for your coffee? Ran out of bread? Got a craving you need to fulfil? Too bad, it’ll have to wait a day. On Sunday, Vienna rises for no one.
Sunday’s quickly become lazy (hangover) days, where nothing happens and the streets are quiet. Honestly, it is fairly relaxing, but absolutely awful if you need to get anything done.
Get Them Shoes Off
I’d say it’s quite common in England to remove your shoes when you enter the house, but this rule is severely stressed in Austria.
If you’re visiting anyone, make sure to forgo your shoes at the door, no matter how long or short your visit is for. It is seen as rude and unhygienic not to remove your footwear when entering the home. I’d also suggest socks at all times, as it is seen as more hygienic than walking around with bare feet (and feet are ugly so no need to show them off).
Service in Austria
The Austrian attitude can seem quite abrupt to anybody who isn’t used to it, and I experienced this first hand when I ate in an Austrian restaurant for the first time.
To begin with, I thought the waiter was just being plain rude, with his stand-offish attitude and lack of small talk. I remember me and my other expat friends talking about it, and thinking he had took a dislike to our table for whatever reason. But the more and more places I visited, I realised this is the general service you’ll receive anywhere.
Austrian people have the attitude of ‘I’m here to do my job, not make friends’, which can be quite surprising to anybody not prepared for it. Especially compared to England, where I’ll usually end up having a chat with whoever is serving me, even if it’s just idle chit chat with a stranger. So leave your British banter at the airport, Vienna’s not the place for it.
British People Are Overly Polite
Even though we’re all grumpy gits, British culture is one of overly-politeness. Pleases and thank yous, scuse’ mes and sorrys, small talk and generally being polite even when we don’t want to. This isn’t the same case in Vienna.
If someone bumps into you on the street you are not likely to receive a brash apology like you would in England, if anything you’ll get a dirty look despite it not being your fault. If you try conversing with a stranger on the tram you are likely to be met with a cold stare, so it’s best to not even try. Austrian’s are not the type of people you can stop on the street randomly and ask for help or directions, you’ll either be ignored or grumbled at (especially if you’re not speaking German).
That doesn’t mean Austrian people are not incredible, the friends you make will be extremely loyal, just a bit less accepting of strangers (especially stupid and British ones).
No Kisses in Texts
This may just be a me thing, but I am so used to putting kisses on the ends of my texts. Even to strangers, I’ll tag on a cheeky kiss to make it seem more polite, and it just isn’t a thing in Austria. Generally, people here are also more direct and less chatty over texts. Maybe I’m the strange one, I don’t know, most likely, but it took me a while to get used to.
Me: Hi, just wanted to let you know I’ll be back in around an hour, hope you had a good day see you soon xxx
Me: I just put the kids to bed, everyone’s all sorted, hope work was good see you later x
Case in point, here’s a snippet of conversation between me and my host mum:
Two Kisses on the Cheek
The first time someone greeted me with two kisses on the cheek I looked like such a fool, I really thought that was only a thing in France. But no, two kisses are a general European thing, British people are the odd ones out here.
Generally, cheek kissing is only for friends and family anyway, and a stranger is often introduced with a handshake. I found this rather odd, but I’ve always been a hugger.
German is Hard to Understand
German sounds strange to my British ears. It’s an angry language that’s all harsh sounds and lots of syllables, and when spoken fast I can’t understand a word of it.
I’m trying really hard to learn German, I’m even in a very intense beginner’s German class where the teacher speaks no English (yeah, it’s stressful). The thing I struggle with the most is actually listening and understanding what is being said to me, because it all sounds like gibberish. Let me give you some examples:
555 = fünfhundertfünfundfünfzig
999999 = neunhundertneunundneunzigtausendneunhundertneunundneunzig
The number system in general is not complicated, but the numbers get long real quick. Imagine asking how much something was in a shop and them replying “dreihundertzweiundneunzig euro neunundneunzig” - yeah, it’s confusing.
But it’s not just numbers, everything sounds strange to me. I have a small brain and I cannot comprehend any of this.
Streichholzschachtel = Matchbox
Eichhörnchen = Squirrel
Arbeitslosigkeitsversicherung = Unemployment Insurance
Dünn = Skinny (that’s my surname, it literally translates to skinny, so nobody can ever tell me I’m not skinny).
Maybe I’ll get better at German, but for now remains one of the most difficult parts of living in Vienna.
Missing Pub Culture
I miss Wetherspoons. I miss my cheap pints and halloumi fries. I miss my go-to pre-drink venue and my go-to hangover breakfast. Austria doesn’t really have pubs, only the occasional Irish pubs in touristy areas, meaning no pub meals. It really is sad.
In Vienna, pubs are replaced with cafes. As much as I love the Viennese cafe culture, having a glass wine cuddled in a blanket by candle light, it really doesn’t match the mood of a British pub. A pub is a loud place, usually rowdy and usually very busy. A cafe is relaxed, more classy, and much quieter. There’s nowhere I can pinpoint in Vienna that matches the mood of a classic pub.
Craving a Yorkshire Pudding
British food is good for the mind, but bad for your health. It’s homely and made of love (usually), and just makes you feel so content. Austrian food is great, I’m really loving it and trying so many new things, but I miss my traditional British grub.
Austria doesn’t have a Sunday dinner, or a full English breakfast, or fish and chip shops, or jammy dodgers, or jaffa cakes, or Gregg’s pastries, or Yorkshire puddings, or crumpets, or salt and vinegar crisps, or Shepherd's pie (my nan would be mortified at the lack of pies here).
I didn’t realise how much I adore British food until I was gone, and I feel like there is a huge part of my heart missing without my typical snacks. Maybe I’m a glutton, but I’d sell my soul for a chip butty from my local chippie.
Kit Kats are Different
This is probably the smallest culture shock I have experienced, but easily one of the most upsetting. Kit Kats taste different in Austria.
I did some research (listen, this is important to me), and apparently British Kit Kats are made by Nestle, while other Kit Kats are made by Hersheys. Nestle put more cocoa into the Kit Kats, making them richer and more chocolatey than the rest of the world.
Basically, Austrian Kit Kats are sh*t. The first thing I’m doing when I get back to England is having a proper Kit Kat, mark my words.
Britain is Ugly
The first thing I noticed about Vienna is how breath-taking it was. It’s the kind of place where you can casually stumble upon a palace when going on a walk (as I did in my first week of being an Au Pair), or where I pass a massive cathedral on my way to German class.
I’m not saying that Britain is the most ugly place on the planet, but if I went on a walk in Sheffield I’m more likely to stumble upon a kebab shop or some kids vaping than a palace. The only thing I used to pass on the train to work in England was graffiti and an Asda. It just doesn’t compare.
Even down to the architecture, Vienna is one of the prettiest places on earth, and everybody should visit at least once in their life. Actually, at least twice, once in summer and once in winter to experience the Christmas wonderland that is Vienna when engulfed in snow.