Moving abroad, you expect certain differences. You know that there’s going to be a language barrier, and that cultural norms will surprise you. You know that attitudes towards work, family, religion, food, clothing, and many, many other things will be different, and that your deeply held assumptions (including some you’re not aware you have) will be challenged and changed.
One of the things that has been consistently surprising and assumption-shaking for us is the difference in the way Americans and Austrians handle issues of safety. When we first visited the zoo here, we were shocked to see how easy it would be for someone to climb into an animal enclosure (and, in some cases, for the animals to get out). We still marvel at the kinds of equipment and play surfaces we find at playgrounds here (rocks, water pumps, dirt, wood, metal and just plain, solid ground). There’s a very strong expectation that people will take personal responsibility for their safety and that of their kids. You don’t want to get trampled by a zebra? Don’t climb the fence. You don’t want your kid to break his arm? It’s up to you, as the parent, to judge what are reasonable risks and challenges for your own child in each situation.
Recently, a couple of friends of ours, who are relatively new to Vienna, reminded me of something that was absolutely shocking to me when we first arrived (and that I’m equally shocked I haven’t yet mentioned here) — homes here don’t have smoke detectors (and aren’t required to have them). It took us a few weeks of being here to notice, because smoke detectors are so ubiquitous, and so expected, in the US that we didn’t even check to see if our first two apartments here had them. We had moved into this, our permanent home in Vienna, and had been here a few days when I realized we didn’t have any — not a single one — in the entire house. (There also aren’t any in the hallways or common areas of our building. Also, no fire escapes.) Having smoke detectors in the home is just expected in the US. I think people would probably consider us negligent parents if we *didn’t* have them in the States. (For anyone who doesn’t know, not only can you purchase smoke detectors in the US, you can typically also have your local fire department come out and install them for free.) We ran right out to get some when we realized (although they weren’t trivial to find).
But not here. Most homes *don’t* have them, and they aren’t legally required in homes or businesses.
And, speaking of assumptions — you know that outrageously obnoxious beeping that signals the end of battery life in smoke detectors? It does not happen in our smoke detectors here. One of ours ran out of batteries without any kind of sign or signal. I noticed the little light had stopped flashing, and we realized the batteries were dead (and may have been for some time). It’s amazing the things I’ve always taken for granted.