Vienna has a different sound than what I was used to in the States. At home, the single most pervasive ambient sound around my home was traffic — I lived very close to the DC beltway, and I could hear it at all hours from my house (unless my air conditioner was running, in which case I couldn’t hear anything but that). I considered it part of suburban living, and accepted it as fact. When I wanted to hear “nature”, or at least the absence of “city”, I went out to see my horses and experience the outdoors.
When I wasn’t hearing car sounds, I was hearing other sounds that I took for granted — loud music from someone else’s windows (typically hip hop or pop, or something else that had come out in the past few months), sirens, helicopters, planes, dogs barking, sometimes people arguing. There was always a lot of sound, everywhere, all the time, and I just understood it to be part of life around a lot of people.
Vienna is more different than I could have imagined. Here, we live not in the suburbs, but smack in the middle of the largest city in Austria. Instead of living in a condo with about 30 units, I live in a building with more than twice that, and the building is also home to several businesses, including a few restaurants. I almost never hear sounds from my neighbors — either through the walls or out the (often open) windows. Austrians are quieter than Americans, certainly, and we keep up with the stereotype — we’re probably the noisiest people in the entire building. With two little kids, a dog, and quiet Austrian neighbors, it would be hard to imagine it any other way. (Part of the difference is also the building construction, I imagine — when the windows are closed, you really don’t hear anything from your neighbors at all.)
And here, instead of being confined to my car, I’m out walking around the city, nearly every day, fully aware of the sounds around me. The vehicular sounds are much less pervasive. The street I live on is busy but narrow — although there is a lot of traffic, especially at certain parts of the day, most of the streets right around where I live are one way and one lane. A busy main road is just over a block from here (closer than the Beltway was to my home in Virginia — but not by much) but I almost never hear the sounds from it, either. Instead, when I’m out on the street, I hear the sounds of hooves on cobblestones, and the ding of bicycle bells warning pedestrians to look both ways before they cross the one way streets.
And the music that I hear is very different. People keep their windows open here a lot more than at home, so it’s much more common to hear music coming from inside someone’s home that in was in the US. Music coming from a car driving down the street is uncommon, though. And in both cases, whether it comes from a house or from a car, it’s overwhelmingly likely to be something classical or something from an opera. I can only remember hearing more recent music — anything rom the last century — emanating from a car on one or two occasions EVER since I”ve been here. And, when the classical music comes through the open window of a home here, it’s very often being played live by one of the residents. I’ve heard flute and harp played, but most often it’s the piano. One of our neighbors plays (very well) and we’re often treated to their practice.
A large part of the seemingly clichéd auditory experience I have here is where I live — we live in the relatively fancy downtown 1st District, where, I guess, the people are pretty fancy, too. (I imagine my experience would be different if I lived a few blocks closer to the University, for example.) The experience of stopping on the way home from the market to hear my neighbor practice his piano is every bit as charming as it sounds, and being serenaded by opera blasting through a car’s windows while I sit in an outdoor cafe makes me smile every time it happens (and yes, it’s happened more than once). These sounds are just another piece of the many “pinch me I live in Europe” moments that I get to enjoy all the time. I love it.