Each culture has its own sense of propriety. So many of the norms I accepted, not just without consideration, but even without even noticing them, are different here. As a general trend, Austrians are more orderly than Americans — quieter, more neatly dressed, more punctual, more respectful of old people and children, more likely to dispose of their trash correctly and less inclined to destroy or deface property. It makes for a very civilized experience. I love it.
But, for all of this organization and civility, they don’t do other things we might expect — they don’t like to wait in lines. While every other cultural characteristic would lead me to believe that they would queue up patiently, it’s really not the case. Waiting in line here and expecting that to pay off when it’s my “turn” is an exercise in futility and frustration. Everyone tries to move up, and a proper line is rarely formed at all — it’s usually just a group milling about, with the most assertive being served first. They really don’t like to wait for anything — encountering a wait at a restaurant is pretty much unheard of. If people arrive, and the restaurant is full, they just go elsewhere.
This same holds true for walking down the sidewalk. On a narrow sidewalk, Americans would tend to walk single file, or to at least fall in to a line when approached from the opposite direction. Austrians walk right alongside the other people they are with, and they don’t line up for anyone (they will walk the oncoming person into the street, rather than go single file — even someone with a stroller or a child). It’s kind of a strange quirk, given how much order and efficiency I see everywhere else.
I’m not critiquing. They’re allowed to have their cultural nuances, of course. Although I find it a little frustrating, from my American perspective, it’s certainly only one odd characteristic out of many fine cultural expectations here. (And certainly, I catch myself doing all kinds of things that are strange or rude by Austrian standards. All the time. It’s pretty much my main activity here.) In general, I find Austria to be a lovely place to live, and the general order and efficiency really appeal to me. That’s how my mind works, too. But although I’m learning to forego the line, just like everyone else here, I still don’t really mind waiting my turn. And since I really do like walking on the sidewalk, I’m going to have to figure that one out, too, I think.