BEING A RESPECTFUL VISITOR: SOME CULTURAL DOS AND DON'TS FOR VISITING
Prepared by Bob Corbett
Recently I sat down with a significantly large group of Austrian and other
European students to ask: what are some key things you would recommend to
Americans who are coming to Vienna which would be those things to do and those things not to do. I ask them to concentrate on things which particularly stood out with Americans, or things that would likely be overlooked.
Here is my beginning list. I will add to them as I get more.
There were three which stood out much more than any others. These were:
- Americans are very often much too loud and boisterous. Viennese tend to
be more reserved and find the loud and raucous behavior very offensive.
- This is a German speaking nation. Americans are notorious (and regarded as
extremely obnoxious) in expecting that people will speak English. In the
first district of Vienna, a major tourist area, many people do in fact speak
English. But outside that district most shop people, even restaurant people do not, or speak very little.
What bothers people is not the difficulties of communication, but the arrogant attitude of Americans that people SHOULD speak English.
Again, this is a German speaking country and it would be very useful to put aside the "everyone speaks English" attitude. They don't. It would also be quite useful to pick up a handful of key German words such as
Bitte (please), Danke (thank you), Enschuldegung (excuse me, pardon me)
and the general daytime greeting Guten Tag (good day) or Gruss Gott
(God's greeting). Guten Abend is for the evening.
- The third specially grating fact was tennis shoes and white socks. This makes
American stand out even more and is just not done here. Students pointed out that in many of the clubs here in Vienna one cannot even get in with tennis shoes on and current American students living here in the Webster U. dorms confirm this.
Viennese do wear jeans now and again. But this is a rather dressy culture
and most people do not, or do so only now and again. However, it is the
tennis shoes and white socks which seem outlandish to the Viennese.
Other items: I met with different groups at different times and asked the same
questions. All of those items listed below came up several times in different groups, thus they are clearly not isolated views.
These are not in any particular order; just bits of advice.
- When going into a shop, especially smaller ones, but even larger ones, greet
the sales person. A "Guten Tag" or "Gruss Gott" is simply expected of
well-mannered persons. This even includes out-door markets and such.
- Beware the 24 hour military style time telling. In the U.S. we use A.M. and
P.M. and repeat 1-12. In all of Europe time is told on a 24 hour basis. Thus the U.S. 1 P.M. is 13:00; ten in the evening in U.S. talk is 22:00 here.
T.V. listings, movie times, closing times, concert times -- just everything is
listed and spoken of in 24 hour clock time.
- It is not wise or polite to make jokes about the Nazi past of Germany and Austria. It is
in no way at all taken to be a topic of humor. It is best not to bring this topic up unless you are relatively close to the people you are talking to.
It's just not polite.
- Sales taxes are not added at the counter when you buy things. It is already
added in on the shelf prices or on the menu or whatever other price list
you see. Taxes are high, but added in long before you buy.
- Watch where you walk!!! Austrians have lots of dogs and……. just watch it
are you will be cleaning your shoes all the time.
- Dogs must be trained here and licensed. They are incredibly well trained and
thus can do many things dogs can't do in the U.S. Almost all restaurants,
including (and perhaps even specially) very fancy ones, allow people to bring their dogs in with them and they sit under the table. They are well behaved and, astonishingly,
dogs virtually NEVER bark. It is eerie.
However, it is extremely rude to ever touch anyone's dog without express permission of the owner. This will get you in trouble and people will often get very angry. Dogs are trained not to be approached and to
protect the owner. Touching someone's dog is a very bad idea.
- I heard the term "personal bubble" several times in discussing the seeming
aloofness or even unfriendliness of Austrians. People are definitely much more reserved than most Americans and appear unfriendly. My Austrian friends insist they are not, they just respect each other's "personal bubble." Austrians may thus seem unfriendly to you personally. Austrians insist this has nothing to do with a person's nationality. They are just as reserved with Austrians.
- "Bitte rechts stehen" Please stand to the right. On the public transportation
system, especially the sub-ways (U-bahn), there are escalators, lots of them. There are signs on the walls telling you to "Bitte rechts
stehen." Please stand to the right. The escalators can accommodate two
lines of people. Those in a hurry may get on the escalator and continue walking. Those just wishing to ride should stand to the right and leave the
left aisle open. Many Americans get yelled at and leave a very bad impression on Austrians when they stand two-by-two to talk with a friend.
This just is not acceptable behavior and people will often bump right into you and demand you move over. Be polite and respect this aspect of the culture. Don't stand side-by-side, but single file to the right.
- Herr Doktor Professor. Special thanks to Elizabeth Attlmayr from the University of Innsbruck for
this addition. She writes:
Just one thing you might want to add to your page about behaviour in Austria
is the importance of academic titles. Austria is quite a hirarchical society when you get
down to it and most people, especially in an academic context, but not only there, are touchy
about their titles. To omit the title (Professor, Doktor, Magister) is seen as quite an insult,
especially when it happens from a student to a member of the academic staff. It always makes
me cringe to hear our American Exchange students address my Professor as "Mr Schmidt"... I know
this is a bit alien to non-Austrians, but there it is! We make jokes about out mania for titles,
but even so, a lot of people are offended when the title is omitted.
Bob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org