Top 50 Ways You Know You're an Expat Living in Vienna

By: Emily Calle

50. You accept that most days you're going to get something wrong.  Living abroad is a challenge, and living outside of your own culture means there will be mistakes.  At first, this is daunting, but it eventually becomes a normal part of life.  It’s inevitable, and completely ok.

49. You know that the train is a great way to get anywhere.  Public transportation here is excellent – clean, efficient, safe, reliable and inexpensive.

48. Vanilla ice cream that tastes like lemons seems normal to you.  And you know that any time is a good time for ice cream.  Austrians of all ages will eat ice cream at any time of day, and it doesn’t even have to be warm out.

47. You know to walk well away from building overhangs in the winter, unless you want to get a pile of icy slush down the back of your coat.  “Vorsicht!  Dachlawine!  (Caution!  Avalanche!)”  Signs bearing this warning go up all over the city after a significant snow, along with barriers that encourage pedestrians to avoid the danger areas.

46. You know that you can smell a horse from a block away.  (Further in the summer.)  Vienna is host to many horse-drawn carriages.  They’re a charming and lovely piece of the ambiance here . . . except, sometimes, for the smell.

45. You have a spring coat and a fall coat in addition to a winter coat.  Vienna has a variety of cold weather conditions, and it’s good to be prepared for all of them – chilly, cold, very cold, windy and cold, wet and cold, snow, snow with wind, snow/rain with cold and wind.

44. You know that you must stock up on milk and bread every Saturday morning . . . along with everyone else in Vienna.  Since there are very few shops that sell groceries in the evenings or on Sundays, it feels like everyone in Vienna is out at the market on Saturday mornings.

43. You know you'll always find an audience for a story about your terrible day.  Austrians love a good story about a rough day . . . and expats usually have one to share.

42. You start to be more surprised by children who wear swimming suits at the lake than by those who don't.  Nudity – in all age groups – is pretty well accepted here around the lakeside.  Children, in particular, often go without swimsuits of any kind.

41. You know to always check both ways before crossing the street -- even when it’s a one way street.  Bicycles are permitted to go the “wrong way” on one way streets, and emergency vehicles are as well – often at high rates of speed.

40. You fully expect that shop hours will be religiously adhered to, but you know that the opening hours of anything administrative are only a vague suggestion.  If you have a purchase to make, and it is closing time, a shopkeeper is likely to rush you out, promptly on time.  If you’re trying to do something administrative or governmental, however, you’re likely to find the office locked and dark during many of the posted “office hours”.

39. You know that deodorant is optional for far too many people.  The one frequent negative about public transportation.

38. When someone hands you free produce in a train station, you don't find it odd.  From time to time, you will encounter people handing out free fruits or vegetables at busy train stations.  Here, have an apple, or a pepper!

37. You have an accent that no one can place.  I often meet other Americans who can’t tell that I’m one, too, and the Austrians I meet seem to most often get the impression that I’m English.  My kids are starting to pick up the North American Expat Pseudo-German Speaker accent I’ve only other heard in American and Canadian kids raised here.

36. You think in Celsius, and have to convert back to explain to people at home what the weather is like.

35. You expect to be able to order organic apple juice anywhere . . . including McDonald's.  We’re completely spoiled.

34. You know what those Nordic walking poles are for. Kind of.

33. 24 hour time seems normal.

32. So does crossing your sevens.

31. You can tell the time by the church bells near your house.  But you still don't know why some of them ring at the times that they do.  I can tell whether or not I’m running late to my German lesson by which bells I hear on which part of my journey.  And we know the lesson is over when we hear the bells at Michaelerkirche ring 7:00.

30. You've almost gotten used to writing your dates "backwards".  Date/month/year.  I think we threw out a lot of food that first year when we misread the dates.

29. Lederhosen kind of make sense and Dirndls seem appropriate for almost any occasion.  I wish I had Lederhosen!
28. You've stopped trying NOT to be in tourist pictures at Michaelerplatz and Stephansplatz.  There are so many people taking pictures there at any one time, you know you can’t possibly avoid them all.

27. It seems perfectly normal that it should take over 2 hours to wash a load of laundry.  Back in the US, it used to take 1-2 hours to wash and dry a load of laundry.  It now literally takes all day.  If I don’t get the wash started before lunch, it won’t be dry before bedtime.

26. "God's greetings" is a perfectly normal way of saying hello.  “Gruss Gott!”  It’s just what they say here to say hello.

25. You have no idea how (or why) people survive without 6 weeks of vacation, plus sick time, plus maternity and paternity leave.

24. It’s no longer a shock when complete strangers criticize the way that your children are dressed – either too warmly, or not warmly enough.  Often both in the same day, especially in the spring.
23. You will never eat a “donut” from anywhere else again.  It’s a Krapfen, or nothing.

22. You carry an umbrella everywhere, and you never trust a weather report.  The temperature can be off by 10 or more degrees (Celsius) from the forecast, and never count on rain or sunshine, just because you read it in a weather report.  I think they may forecast the weather here by throwing darts at a board.

21. You know that there appear to be about 57 different kinds of sugar available in Vienna. You can get all of them at the Billa. You only ever buy two.
20. Half of your English has become British English. It’s just easier, since that’s what so many Austrians learned in school.

19. Although you've never understood it, prune paste no longer surprises you as a pastry filling.  And you’ve stopped being fooled and expecting chocolate . . . most of the time.

18. You've become very, very punctual.  You apologize profusely for being even 2 minutes late.

17. Socialism is no longer a dirty word.  Vienna is a great place to live. They’re doing a lot of things right.

16. You've been told off (more than once) for putting your groceries on the checkout belt “incorrectly”.  And you still don't know how Austrians pay for and bag their groceries so quickly.

15. When you go home to visit, you get stares when you exclaim "good morning!" as you enter a shop.  It’s a habit that I can’t seem to break. I’m grateful I don’t do it in German.

14. You fear the Krampus.  At least a little.

13. You aren't surprised to see a dog anywhere.

12. You always stop to chat with the neighbors, but never smile at strangers.

11. Whenever you refer to "home", you have to specify where you mean.

10. A fully grown adult in business attire on a scooter or skateboard no longer fazes you.

9. You count your eggs in 10s, not 12s. But still call it a “dozen”.

8. You only vaguely remember what it is like to wait in an orderly line. For a nation of people that seems to love efficiency, it’s surprising how intolerant people here are of waiting in a line.

7. You cringe when people from home mix up Austria and Germany. One language (more or less), two countries. I doubt Switzerland has this problem.

6. You know that the customs line at the airport is only for tourists. I have never seen an Austrian person go through the “something to declare” line.  We went through that line when we first arrived, and the guy glared at us like we were ruining his day, and then waved us through without checking anything.

5. You've forgotten what a "snow day" is.  Sometimes it’s cold.  Sometimes it snows.  Life goes on.  School happens, work happens, the buses run on time.

4. You're accustomed to seeing elementary school aged children on public transport by themselves.  But it still freaks you out.

3. You look for lost gloves on fence posts, not on the ground.

2. You still have no idea where Arnold Schwarzenegger gets his accent.  I have never met an Austrian who sounds like that.

1. You can say the number six without giggling in your head.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingEmily Calle is an American expat living in Austria. Blog description: Observations, lessons learned, triumphs and failures in living (and travelling) abroad with two young children. A chronicle of our constant adventure.
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Contest Comments » There are 31 comments

Sarah Lewis wrote 4 years ago:

Emily's blog is wonderfully informative to read, and I always look forward to reading a new entry.

Nancie Barwick wrote 4 years ago:

Emily writes so clearly and well that it makes sense all the time, even when she is describing complex cultural issues. She has humor, logic, and the human condition down pat. Well done, Emily.

Dan Calle wrote 4 years ago:

Awesome post - especially the points about what it does to your English! I know that no one understands what a "stroller" is, so I resort to calling it a Kinderwagen even to English-speaking friends because I can't remember what the British call it. Pram? Baby buggy?

Don wrote 4 years ago:

Great blog! I try to catch up at least once a week. Emily's stories remind me of my own time spent in Vienna some years ago.

Jae Robinson wrote 4 years ago:

I have enjoyed your posts for a LONG time now - Emily Calle your writing puts us smack in your shoes [if one has never been there] and for those of us who have, keep us nodding with the inside knowledge of your experiences - LOVE!!!

Topetan wrote 4 years ago:

It is amazing that you find time to do such a consistent and thorough job of blogging while being a mom of two little boys. I enjoy your blogs and appreciate them very much. Being an immigrant myself (to the USA) I can relate to your experience. I would add two things about Austria I did not know: it takes forever for water to boil in Vienna (compared to the USA) and I find it very surprising that anyone would confuse Austria with Australia (I learned this from the souvenirs that say that there are no cangurus in Austria).

Kathy wrote 4 years ago:

Love Emily's blog. It really helps me understand what life is like to be living in Vienna with her husband and her kids...

Phil D wrote 4 years ago:

Emily's blog is wonderfully informative and a good read. I can identify with so many of the things she writes.

Krista wrote 4 years ago:

I love your blog Emily. Even though I am an Austria native it's so much fun to see my world through your eyes! Keep up the good work!!!

Ellen wrote 4 years ago:

Emily captures the Vienna expat experience perfectly! (I should know - I'm also an expat in Vienna!)

Rassi Borneo wrote 4 years ago:

Such an awesome blog - interesting topics, and gives great insight to living abroad. It is like what happens after the couple buys a house on "House Hunters International" - when the real challenges begin. Emily, you are my blogging hero!

Amanda V wrote 4 years ago:

A talent for placing you in the moment with her, there is never a moment where Emily's tale fails to come across. She puts you in her shoes of what it feels like to be an American in a foreign country; from buying ham at the deli, to the wonder and magic of the Christmas and Easter markets, you feel like you are there! Homesickness, gratitude, and happiness, she recounts all of her experiences with clear perspective for the lessons she has learned. I just love reading her stories and look forward to them every week!

Marie Bang wrote 4 years ago:

I love reading Emily's blog! It takes me with her and her family throughout her adventures. Very informative and helpful to anyone wanting to visit Austria. A must follow.

Elaine D wrote 4 years ago:

Emily's blog helped my husband and I when we decided to move to Vienna. Her blog continues to enlighten and inspire me.

Krishana wrote 4 years ago:

great job Emily!! i lived in Vienna for 1.5 years and still find myself crossing my sevens, writing dates wrong, taking an umbrella everywhere and surprised when a store is opened late or on Sundays. thanks for sharing from. your experience. :)

Deborah Noder wrote 4 years ago:

A fantastic blog of a fantastic person. I'm happy that i can say i know emily a little bit because she is a lovely person with a big heart and with wonderful words.

Peter Virkus wrote 4 years ago:

Charming and insightful. I look forward to reading every new post. Sometimes it makes you laugh out loud and sometimes cry. Always makes you long for family. Thank you Emily for the window into your life!

Aimee A wrote 4 years ago:

I LOVE Emily's blog!! She's a wonderful writer whose adventures abroad let me live vicariously and whose advice helps me be a better mom!

Sergio Garde wrote 4 years ago:

It is true, every single word! I come from Spain and I feel really identified with this post. My culture "back at home" is totally different but still love Austria. Great job Emily! Keep it up!

Lesya wrote 4 years ago:

I love reading Emily's blog. We spent 6 weeks in South America for our adoption so I can relate to some of what she (and her family) are doing, however, that is just not the same as living in another country. I get to live vicariously through her and her experiences and it makes me want to go see all Vienna has to offer.

Joan Bosmans wrote 4 years ago:

What fun reading ! Emily shares her thoughts on Austria while making us feel like we are part of the journey !

Lynn J. wrote 4 years ago:

I recently traveled to Vienna. Emily's blog posts gave me wonderful insight into what to expect during my visit. As we walked the streets and visited the markets I laughed (to myself) as I thought, "this is just how Emily said it would be". Thanks Emily!

Jeanette wrote 4 years ago:

Always enjoy a new updated post on Emily's blog. Even though I have no children, I love to travel and have always dreamed of living abroad. Emily's blog lets me daydream while I sit at my desk during my lunch and know there are a lot of possibilities out there. Thank you Emily for your blog. Plus, her list is pretty awesome!

Howard K wrote 4 years ago:

I've been reading Emily's blog for the last couple of years and I love them. I've never traveled abroad with children, but I'm sure if I had to, that reading Emily's experience would help.

Maggie Graham wrote 4 years ago:

Well written yet again. Love your insight, humor, and refreshing view of your adventure.

Jo V. wrote 4 years ago:

Emily does such a great job explaining the ins and outs of being an expat parent. I loved her posts before my visit and I still look forward to them since I've been back home. :)

Fletch wrote 4 years ago:

I've been following Emily's blog from the beginning and it has always made me want to move overseas - even though (or perhaps because?) she is equally transparent about the challenges as the highlights. Emily has a gift for presenting her family's experience without gloss - her blog is genuine and a pleasure to read.

Kate Eskew wrote 4 years ago:

Emily captures the ups and downs of living abroad. She is so upbeat regardless of the situation. I read (almost) every post!

Renee G wrote 4 years ago:

I love reading Emily's blog. It's always such a delight and a very interesting view of living abroad with children. I think it is fascinating - especially reading about how her children go to school and the differences in daily life versus the state.

Lauren C. wrote 4 years ago:

Emily has such a talent. Her stories reflect kindness and are always a joy to read.

David Funk wrote 4 years ago:

As a traveler, and an American in love with Europe I am constantly looking for intelligent and unique things to read about people's experiences. Emily's blog is unique in its perspective and especially valuable to American families living abroad. The insights give me new understanding of the culture from a parent and outsiders point of view and the inside jokes make my laugh as I feel we have a shared understanding of something Most Americans are never fortunate enough to experience.

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