Our experience here feels so BIG. The struggles and challenges feel massive, the discoveries wonderful, the perfect moments stunningly delightful. The highs are so high and the lows can be very low. Before we came, we were told it would be like this. We’ve told others, who have come since, the same thing: “Be prepared. It’s a rollercoaster.”
And it is. And it’s worth it. For all of the tough moments, all of the frustrations, all of the roadblocks and the loneliness, we’re glad we’re here. Because the good moments are so very good and we know that life will never be quite like this again. We know that we will never be the same again. Being here, living it, it’s overwhelming and all-encompassing. It’s a huge, mentally monopolizing experience, in that it changes us constantly and it occupies so much of our time and mental energy just to plan and execute daily life.
It’s sometimes shocking to me, then, how different the experience of other people in a similar situation can be. I don’t get a lot of time to do so (see the “overwhelming” and “monopolizing” comments above) but I sometimes get to read what other American expats in Austria experience, or (even more rarely) actually talk so some of them about it.
Their experiences, while as massive and entirely consuming as ours, are completely different. Some of them have experiences, regularly, that they define their time in Vienna by — at coffee houses, bars, clubs, art museums — that we have barely seen, if at all. Some of their favorite places are places I’ve never heard of, let alone been to, and the images, captured in words or pictures, of “their” Vienna seems as foreign to me as mine do to most of my friends at home.
So I wonder, sometimes, am I missing something? How many of the essential, quintessential Viennese experiences will I never have? Not just because I’m a mom, and I’m busy with my little ones, but also because of my own tastes and preferences, my own prejudices and perspective. What will I miss? What will I never see? What am I not experiencing that “is* Vienna to someone else?
Because there’s a pressure that comes with living abroad, a feeling that I ought to really get to know Vienna while I”m here. That I ought to really see and experience it. That I should go home knowing certain things and having experienced particular aspects of this city, this country, this continent. And I don’t know if I’m having the Austrian or Viennese experience.
Actually, I know, in so many ways, that I’m not. We haven’t been to the Opera. We’ve only eaten once at a “fancy” restaurant. We don’t shop (except for shoes for the kids and once, regrettably, for a ballgown). I don’t spend lazy mornings at a coffee house or evenings drinking wine and people-watching. Our days are spent with playgrounds and kindergarten drop-offs and our evenings are usually full of baths and stories. I’d wager I’ve seen more parks than an average American expat in Vienna, but haven’t been to many art museums. I’ve mastered getting around the Christmas markets with a stroller, but haven’t been to the Naschmarkt. Some days I feel a little proud of the way my experience here has differed from “the norm”, and some days I’m frustrated by it.
The pressure and expectation to have a certain kind of experience come, I know, from me, not from the outside. I hear about the things other people are doing, and I think, “Am I supposed to be doing that? Is that what this is about?”
We’ve entered into the final year of our time in Vienna, and I think that makes me feel the pressure more acutely, because the window is closing, this fleeting opportunity is finite and will be over soon. There’s so much still to see and do, and I want to be sure to hit the highlights while I can.