On the whole, Austrians are courteous, helpful and generally polite when I encounter them out in public. People seem to generally do what they’re supposed to do (throw their trash in the trash cans, sit where they should on the train, give up their seat to someone older or less able than themselves, hold doors, cross at crosswalks, etc.).
The example I get to experience, frequently, is how helpful they can be with a stroller. The trains are generally set up to work well with strollers — there’s designated stroller parking areas on the trains, and doors that are marked which are stroller accessible (generally, but not always, they’ll even accommodate our double stroller) and all of the underground trains are accessible by elevator.
Every so often, though, an elevator might be out of service. And although I prefer to travel up and down by elevator, I will use an escalator in a pinch — but not every station has an escalator going down, and often the staircase is too long to try to manage a stroller on my own down a flight of stairs (what’s possible isn’t always safe). And some of the trams and out-of-town trains have several steps up to get inside. Both can be difficult, if not impossible, to manage with a stroller. 100% of the time that I’ve run in to a difficult situation I have had one or more complete strangers offer to assist by helping me carry the stroller up or down the stairs, helping us on or off the tram or helping us carry excess stuff that isn’t easy to manage on an escalator. (I had one particularly memorable situation where I had Liam in the stroller, B on his bike and the elevator was broken. I had no idea what I was going to do — I simply didn’t have enough hands to get everyone safely up the escalator. But then a woman who had just come down the escalator I was trying to go up stopped and offered to help. She carried the bike while I managed the stroller and Benjamin — and she even missed her train to do it.) This kind of kindness is a normal part of daily life here in Vienna. I’m still a little surprised when it happens, but people generally count on it, and it is incredibly reliable. I am incredibly grateful for this help when I need it, and truly impressed by the culture of responsibility and thoughtfulness that has created it.
But this leaves me all the more perplexed by the behavior I see regarding Austrians and elevators. Every single day, I see people go out of their way to walk to take an elevator when they could, more easily and more quickly, have taken an escalator or the stairs. They will wait for the elevator to come (the elevators here aren’t usually very fast) and pack themselves in. There are signs on the elevators stating that priority is to be given to strollers, people in wheelchairs, and the elderly, but no one seems to care. I have, on several occasions, been pushed aside so that seemingly fit people can take the elevator that they had to walk out of their way to get to. (I’ve seen wheelchairs pushed aside, too.) Generally, the people here don’t shrink away from physical activity, and the sense of courtesy and responsibility seems so strong that I just can’t make sense of this one weird little thing. It just seems so out of character based on everything else I experience here, but it’s also remarkably pervasive. (I wonder if it’s related to the dislike of waiting in lines that seems to be common here, too.)
I am impressed and amazed by the amount of kindness and help I’ve gotten here when I need it — it’s part of what made my mind up to move here when the opportunity came up. The strangeness with the elevators doesn’t undo that — it’s just a piece of the puzzle that I don’t understand yet (and there are still a lot of those).