5 lessons I have learned from the Austrians

I love this week’s topic for Amanda’s blog link up … except that I really struggled to choose just 5 things!  I have learned so much from the Austrians, and I am so grateful for these lessons.  They’ve changed my outlook, my priorities, and (I hope) helped me to become a happier and more relaxed person.

1.  Public transportation can be VERY functional
The Viennese public transportation system, made up of buses, subway trains and trams is truly impressive.  (The nationwide and local rail services are equally noteworthy.)  The system is clean, safe and reliable.  They’ve obviously invested a lot in the system — not just in its purchase, but in its maintenance, as well.  The people who use the system take a lot of pride in it, too — outside of a bit of graffiti, everyone takes good care of it, and the public transport system will take you wherever you want to go in Vienna.  We don’t have a car, and honestly don’t need one.


2.  Play should include actual challenges
I’ve remarked on this again and again, ever since my earliest days in Vienna.  The playgrounds here are significantly less safe here than in the US — full of hard surfaces, high things to climb, pinching hazards, and actual wood, metal and rocks — and that’s a GOOD thing.  Since moving to Vienna, my kids have learned to push themselves, to conquer challenges, and to dust themselves off when they fail.  As an American mother, I didn’t appreciate how overprotective I was being before.

And this practice of not protecting people from everything (including their own poor decisions) exists everywhere here.  “Personal responsibility” is very much expected (and thus is the norm).


3.  We all need to get over how we look (and how everyone else looks)
In America, we have a nationwide love/hate relationship with food and our bodies.  We are obsessed about eating, and yet we are filled with shame about what we eat and judgement over what other people eat.  We are obsessed with fitness and the pursuit of physical perfection while being the most obese nation in the world.  We have a collective national eating disorder, and we don’t even see it.

Living in Austria, I’ve learned that food is for eating (yes, both fat and skinny people have to eat).  I’ve also learned that neat and tidy presentation of our personal appearance is important, but that we look how we look — trying to create physical perfection is as absurd as ignoring our health.  No one is perfect.  People in Austria also get less worked up about nudity and scant clothing — not every bit of nakedness is something to get excited about.

4.  Free time is so important
I love the Austrian attitude about vacation.  They get a lot of time off from work each year … and they use it.  5-6 weeks of vacation time is typical, and that’s in addition to the numerous holidays and nearly unlimited sick time.  It is simply an expected part of the culture that people must take time off to spend with family and to relax.  There’s no guilt about it from the employee and no stinginess about it from the employer.

Along with this is the Austrian cultural attitude that evenings and Sunday are for rest and for family, instead of time to get errands run.  I love it, and I hope to never forget it.

20140326-153017.jpg5.  How to shift the focus of the holidays
Christmas is, of course, a religious holiday.  But additionally, Christmas is meant to be about being together with family and celebrating the magic of the season.  I’d always found myself, instead, stressed about shopping, rushing from one gathering to the next and looking forward to Christmas not just as a fantastic day spent with my loved ones but also as the finish line for the craziness of the holiday season.  The Austrian focus really IS on time together, on religious observation and enjoying the entire holiday season.  Advent is as much a part of Christmas as the day before and the day itself.  Shopping for gifts happens in a more modest manner, and often amidst the festivity of a neighborhood market.  Living in Austria, I’ve learned that the entire season IS the celebration, and that rather than rushing to complete my checklist by a deadline, the Christmas season can be about spending time preparing together — shopping, seeing the lights, baking, cooking and decorating — not just about THE DAY.  The holidays really are about celebrating, being together, and bringing light and wonder into the darkest part of the year.

I have learned so many things by being here these past few years, and there are so many ways in which I hope I have been permanently changed by the lessons that I’ve learned.  I have also so enjoyed participating in this blog link up, sharing my experiences and reading about others’.  (Thanks Amanda!)

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

2 thoughts on “5 lessons I have learned from the Austrians

  1. Hi Emily,

    My name’s Gretchen and I’m writing a piece for a local news publication on the best Austrian blogs by expats. Would you want to answer a few questions about your blog?

    All the best,

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