Things that I like about Austria -
Things that I dislike about it

Heart prepared for Beuschel at Plachutta

Picture above: A heart is cut into pieces in a restaurant in Vienna for making Beuschl. I like Beuschl, but dislike Vienna.

Many tourists that travel to Austria have a distorted idea of the country: The hubs of tourism are concentrated in certain parts of Salzburg, Vienna and the Salzkammergut, most visitors don′t make it to the hinterland and few interact with locals that are not working in the tourism business.

They see Austria as a pretty little place of "The Sound of Music", might look a bit into Mozart′s life and assume that anti-Semitism is a secret issue of everybody wearing Lederhosen. Reading on, I assume that you are interested in a something like "behind the scenes" information about the country.

In that case, you might want to hear what I like about Austria (and missed when living abroad) and what I dislike about it (the things that made me move to the US and England in the first place). Judge yourself to what extent this matches with your impressions or those of other people.

Let′s start thinking positive: Things I like about Austria

1.) History and Architecture: I enjoy the historic heritage that surrounds you everywhere in Austria. Baroque lifestyle and the presence of old buildings is something that you take for granted if you grow up in Salzburg, but it isn′t. Austria is also at the crossing of several European cultures and ethnicities, adding a wide spectrum of traditions.

2.) Safety and Tidiness: Austria is a very safe place (there are less than 100 murders a year) and you will note that with the exception of few urban areas, it is remarkably clean and tidy. Call it anal, but I like that.

3.) Good value for money: Surely everybody complains about the high prices since the Euro was introduced -statistics, however, show that Austria is still doing well when it comes to the ratio between average incomes and cost of living. If you doubt this, look up the "quality of life" rankings that the consultant Mercer does annually for the magazine "The Economist". Vienna always ranks among the top 5 cities in the World.

4.) Diverse approach on education: A diverse interest among intellectuals is typical for the 1900-school of Vienna; science, fine arts, music, literature, philosophy and the humanities together make up education in Austria. I wouldn′t think that Austrians are particularly well-educated (in international rankings, we are doing alright with strengths in humanities and weaknesses in the sciences). However, proper intellectuals often have an exceptionally wide angle of interests and are classic "generalists" in their attitude towards education.

5.) Cultural offerings: Cheap access to the opera, massive student discounts for World class concerts at the Salzburg Festival or the Wiener Festwochen, exquisite art museums like the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Albertina, or the Palais Liechtenstein in Vienna, or the ballet of the Staatsoper - thumbs up! In England a ticket for a non-professional student performance of a play (5 pounds) is twice as expensive as an evening in the standing room of the Staatsoper (3.50 Euro).

6.) Language: Austrian German is my mother tongue and I love to use it. It is more guttural and softer than standard German in terms of pronunciation, and more metaphorical and expressive in its many regional idioms. Germans that might consider Austrian German as a peasant′s dialect or simply a badly spoken version of high-German should explain, why writers of Austrian origin are so clearly over-represented in the World of German literature.

7.) Natural beauty and diversity: Easy to believe that one, the Austrian Alps tear the country into dramatic pieces, add lakes, swamps, hills and glaciers among other dramatic features. Almost 50 percent of Austria is forest and Europe′s biggest National Park (Hohe Tauern) is only one of several in the country. Once again this is something I took for granted - but northwest Ohio and East Anglia proved me wrong. The more I appreciate Austria now.

8.) Wide-spread prosperity and socialist tradition: At latest since the 1970ies, high taxes ensure an efficient network of public transportation, little poverty, a solid middle-class, excellent public health care, funding for the arts and endowments of museums, and access to education is widely free (thus meritocratic). The good side of the medal (compare with the dislikes).

Far from picture-perfect: Things I dislike about Austria

1.) Rudeness and interactions: After several years in England, Austrians occur terribly rude to me. Be it the grumpy bus driver, a waiter in a restaurant or the odd old lady in the train - you are never safe of abusive language or complaints. At least people don′t hide what they thinků

2.) Conformism and homogenous thinking: Ethnically Austria is back to being a diverse place (especially Vienna), but Austrians are generally very much into "equality" and a life following a template. Non-conformists find their niches, but will always have to explain why. I found England more tolerant towards eccentricities, but the US even worse. I blame left-wing and right-wing equally of excessive conformism (it′s hard to discriminate the two these days anyway).

3.) Austro-centricism: Nothing is as important in Austria as Austria. The Public Broadcast once presented a news headline on the frontpage of on a local producer of toilet brooms that was the number one seller of such items in the US. Austria is taking itself very serious and matters of international interest in turn often efficiently ignored.

4.) Smoking: People smoke cigarettes everywhere, all the time and with no hesitation whatsoever. I hate it, but have little hope that this will change in the near future.

5.) Limitations: Austria is a little place - it′s not tiny, but it does provide very limited opportunities especially for young people. It easily feels a bit narrow, especially since Austrians tend to be very inflexible and feel uneasy about reaching beyond their country.

6.) Lack of initiative: Austrians of all generations are today used to the aid and support of everything through the public. The longstanding socialist tradition has efficiently undermined any natural basis for initiative in the Austrian personality. Austrian graduates are the oldest in Europe (over 27 for their first degree), Austria′s average age of retirement is years under 60. With all my appreciation for social justice: Austria has gone too far. It is time to liberalise some things.

7.) Language: Hooray to Austrian German, but nation-wide deficiencies in English (I compare Austria with Scandinavian or the Benelux countries, not with Germany, where it′s even worse) constrain the open mind and keep many smart people from living in Austria.

8.) Content-oriented thinking: In the Germanic tradition, there is a strong tendency towards content-oriented thinking (knowledge, ideally formally tested), whereas the Anglo-American tradition tends more towards teaching creative thinking. Both tendencies have their pros and cons, but for the time being I feel that Austria is too much into what you know rather than how you think about it.

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