Viennese Vignettes

After five long years in the beautiful city of Vienna, the time has come and I am preparing to move to pastures anew. I can’t leave without a final summation of what it is to be an expat/immigrant/outsider in this great city, so I present here an unnumbered listicle of things a person should achieve by the time he/she leaves Vienna. This is part bucket list, part cultural commentary, and part passive-aggressive rant about easily resolved white people problems. Littered throughout one may even encounter a piece of solid advice that will make living here easier. There are around 50 of these little tips about how you know when you know your way around Vienna. If only I could think up a catchy title to reflect that! I usually try and make these posts accessible for all readers, but this time I apologise: if you haven’t lived in Vienna for at least a few months, you will be completely lost here. To paraphrase Ultravox, it will mean nothing to you. Anyway, I’ll be back at the end.

viennese vig

Greet someone with “Grüß Gott“.

It’s how to politely say hello to a stranger in this part of the world. Literally it means ‘Greetings to god’. If that’s confusing, it’s because the greeter is asking you to greet god for him/her should you see him first (in heaven). It’s polite, it’s alliterative, and it is an everyday reminder of our futile mortality, so I’m a big fan.


Never learn to speak German fluently.

You don’t need it: all the people you meet will speak English better than you anyway. For the rare moments you encounter a non-foreigner, simply pointing and acting generally unfriendly is more than enough to communicate an action or idea to an Austrian.

Play football with Wiener Kickabouts

The premier football group in Vienna for foreigners who want to play with foreigners, and Austrians who hate Austrians. If you want to play regularly, play with them.


Watch football games at the Shebeen.

Less touristy than many of the other sports bars, there can be quite an atmosphere when big premier league teams are playing. #ViennaHack: When in a big group, remember what you order, as the bar staff will generally try and charge you for drinks unpaid by other groups. Advice: never be the last group to pay up after a football game.


Go to a Wiener SportKlub game.

David Alaba aside, Austrian football is terrible. Celebrate it by supporting a third division working class team while drinking warm Ottakringer on cold seats. Preferably aim for the Derby of Love, one of Central European footballs most contested sporting rivalry’s.


Play kickball with Vienna Kickball.

Spend a Sunday afternoon standing around a park drinking beer and asking people what the hell Kickball is. A good mix of expats/foreigners make up this group, and the leadership is a good mix of overt cynicism (hungover Christoph) and over-enthusiasm (Toma when he sees snow). Join up here.


Use Vienna CityBikes.

It’s like owning a bike, except without any of the responsibility. Check out this handy graphic here.


Feel guilty when the marathon is on.

It looks like anyone can do it, doesn’t it? Maybe next year, but for now, let’s just wake up for the finish on TV, and then back to bed.


Be the slowest person running on the Prater Hauptallee.

You’ll have a lot of competition, but you can do it.


Shout at someone while cycling.

You know best. Ruin that tourist family’s day!


Never go skiing.

It’s for tourists and middle class families, so skiing is none of an expats business.


Win Quiz Dreitausand!

The best quiz in town. It’s run monthly throughout most of the year at club Transporter. No pop culture reference from the 80’s, 90’s, 00’s or even this decade is too obscure for these quizmasters. If you win, treasure it. Because it won’t happen too often.


Get 3 leisurely drinks in during Happy Hour at Johnny’s Pub.

It’s daunting, but you can absolutely do it if you time it properly. Get there for 18h for your first pint, finish it by 18:30 for pint 2, then at 18:50 order number 3 while pretending you were on your way to the toilet. Bingo: you’re nicely drunk by 19:30 on a weekday for around €6. But tip the barman, for god’s sake.


Drink a cocktail made by Percy on the Donaukanal .

Drinking your warm cans by the canal is one thing, but the best beach experience in Vienna is a little shack run by authentic Caribbean man Percy just across from the Bratislava Twin Liner Port. He’ll sing you reggae songs while making you a rum cocktail, and then you can relax on beach chairs in the dirty sandbox they provide as seating.


Get kicked into a bar at 10pm.

Vienna needs her sleep. So if you’re drinking outside a bar around the curfew, you could well find yourself being forced inside. Bitte Pssst!


Sneak beer into the cinema.

The soundtrack of watching a film in a Viennese cinema is of quiet moments in the movie being  punctuated by a cacophony of cans being cracked throughout the theatre. Just do it: no one cares, because they’re doing it too.


Mix gassed water with white wine.

It took me years to realise how to make Austrian white wine drinkable.


Eventually realise and accept that you drink alcohol absolutely every day.

They have champagne for breakfast here, for Christ’s sake. Only those raised here can possibly avoid a small bout of alcoholism.


Bring unsuspecting people to Adlerhof.

Tell them it’s just a normal bar. Don’t explain anything. Works best with people you don’t know too well.


Wait for the fun to start at Schikaneder.

It won’t, but you’re not going to be the one who admits it.


Know what your personal price-ceiling is with regards to Wurstelstand Beer.

It’s €2.80. Anything more, and they are having a laugh. Don’t encourage them.


Go to a bar without reserving a table

You’re not going to have a good time, but try and fight the system anyway!


Get pissed off at having to wait 5 minutes for an U-Bahn.

Completely unacceptable. No other words.


Accept that the U3 is Vienna’s best U-Bahn line.

It’s got the main bus station (VIB), the Westbahnhof, the main shopping street (Neubaugasse), the tourist centre (Stephansplatz) and the main link to the airport (Wien Mitte). No other line can compare.


Come to regard the 13A as the U5.

It’s frequent, it’s fast, and it fills the hole where the U5 should be. It just happens to be a bus.


Get your kaisekrainer with mayonnaise instead of mustard.

I ordered it by mistake once, but have never looked back since. The sausage men will look on you with disgust, but don’t be ashamed, for it is delicious, and they live in a hut on the side of the street.


Say on facebook that you’re interested in every free event there is.

Free outdoor cinema, free ethnic festival, free concert, free puppies. Everything’s free in the summer, but there’s gonna be too many people there, so just drink a few cans by the kanal instead.


Swim in the Danube.

It’s dirty, smelly, and tastes like mould, but in a land-locked country you take what you can get.


Have a good hour or two at a Donauinsel BBQ, before the mosquitos come out and eat you alive.

As the sun goes down across the water, you’re eating a burger, with your fourth beer in your hand, and you reflect on life’s inner meaning. Because in 10 minutes you will be living in a war zone.


Wander far away from the U-Bahn stations on the Donauinsel.

Stay around the population centers to be safe, but just once, walk or cycle 15 minutes further than you usually go. After a pleasantly empty buffer zone, you will encounter the flabby, middle-aged, intensely proud, and incredibly sunburned naked enthusiasts of the FKK.


Watch amateur freestyle German rap battles at Einbaumobel on Saturday nights.

Watch it once for the experience, but don’t go back. They are terrible. But you can pay whatever you want for the beer. #freispende


At least once, avoid getting involved in the Great Ice-Cream Debate.

Everyone’s vegan hipster ice cream crap is just as terrible as everyone else’s. Eis Greissler be damned!


Only go to museums when they’re free to enter.

You’ll see how much people of this city appreciate art every first Sunday of the month, and on the Austrian National Holiday, as well as in the occasional free opening of an exhibition at the Albertina. They love art here. Just not enough to actually want to pay for it.


Get bullied into ordering early in the bakery chains.

They’ve got 100 different products, all with unique names, and the name signs are all in front of the wrong products. Yet I’m supposed to know what I want within 3 seconds of entering Anker.


Get unnecessarily stressed as supermarket closing time approaches.

If the clock passes 19:30, and you haven’t yet gone to the supermarket, you are in deep trouble. Just be glad it’s not 18:01 on Saturday……



In order for this to be authentic, the person shouting at the staff to open another checkout counter must already be consuming the one can of beer he/she came in to buy.


Never expect to go shopping for something specific and find what you are looking for in the first place you visit.

Consumerism never really came in here, and this is reflected in the supermarkets and big electronic stores. Shops have the things they sell, and others have the things they sell. It’s your job to find the right one. And don’t bother the staff in each shop about what you’re looking for, either.


Give your tram seat up for a woman carrying a small dog.

She probably lists it as a dependent on her tax forms.


Complain about -15° in the winter, 40° in the summer, and everything in between.

Humans weren’t meant to live in places with such temperature changes. Just stay at 19°, and everyone will be happy. Everyone goes on beach and ski holidays anyway, we don’t need extreme weather here.


Find out what’s going on with Puber.

If you don’t know what that is, then google it. It will ruin the city for you forever, though.


Have lunch at the UN.

If you don’t work there, get a friend to invite you. They sign you in and after a big security check, you can walk around the place as long as you hold your friends hand. Make your friend pay for lunch too: he or she is nothing but a rich, tax dodging bastard.


Live off the state.

Make socialism work for you! Feeling tired, bored with your job? You pay the taxes, so you have earned a break. Make everyone else pay for your extravagant lifestyle for a few months.


Fear the reckoning of the Jahresabrechnung.

It’s that time of year, and you’re starting to regret using that cheap fan to cool yourself all through August, aren’t you? Maybe you didn’t need to have the heating on in late February, and maybe energy saving bulbs are worth the extra few Euros over those cheap shitty ones you always buy. The days before the Jahresrechnung are like waiting in line on Judgement Day: we know what we did wrong, we just hope none of it was as important as we think.


Lie to the Rauchfangkehrer.

He wakes you up at 6AM, has a look around your apartment and then very seriously tells you that you need to get your chimney serviced. You tell him that’s what you thought he is here for. He repeats his request, and hands you a business card. You tell him yes, you will call them today. He leaves, and you go back to bed.


Get used to the smell of horseshit.

The First District sure is charming. In pictures.


Be prepared for a fight at Hofer/Lidl.

Its Balkan rules in these supermarkets.


Go to another country to use the airport.

Michael O; Leary knew what he was doing when he set Ryanair up in Bratislava.


Never answer the doorbell, for fear it’s the GIS man.

It’s only €14 per month, but it’s your €14 per month, and it’s worth the lies, deceit and anti-social behavior.


Get terrified whenever a fellow foreigner mentions something you don’t understand about the MA35.

“Oh, what were you doing at the MA35?”

“I was just getting my 35qx29b renewed. It only took a few weeks, and they only fined me €136,278 for doing it too late. I was so lucky.”


Watch Before Sunrise.

And imagine how different that movie would have been if the two young lovers had wandered around Vienna during the winter. There sure as hell would not have been two more movies.


Live south of the Wienfluss.

Refer to everyone else as Northern Barbarians.


Eat cake at Café Central, while making awkward eye contact with the piano player.

Maintain his gaze all through the entire score of The Third Man.


Don’t panic when you lose your keys.

A few years ago it would be the end of the world, but now, you have a guy for this. While 99% of schlusseldiensts won’t illegally cut your keys, you know a place where it can be done in minutes. No forms, no hundreds of euros, just a normal service: the way it should be.





Some minor white people problem issues, but what can you expect when you reside in the most livable city in the world? You have to complain about something, and complaining about monotonous perfection is how you know you have truly become an Echte Wiener (just joking, they will never accept you, EVER. Console yourself by bringing up Austria’s role in World War II. In schools here they were taught that Germany invaded Austria, and occupied it just like they did to Poland. Inform them of what the rest of the world learned in school!). Don’t be afraid to leave me a message below, on facebook or on twitter about your own personal Viennese Vignettes. This was an amazing city to live in, and I will definitely miss this place and all those I met in Vienna. It meant something to me. Oh, Vienna.




Erasmus & Me: 10 Years On

It’s been ten years now since I finished my Erasmus exchange semester, and like for many people, the exchange is something that I knew at the time was an extraordinary experience and something I still look back on now as the greatest single period in my life thus far. I spent five months, from the end of January 2005 to the end of that June, living and studying in Tilburg, which is a small town of around 200,000 people in the south of the Netherlands, not too far from the Belgian border. The town itself is nothing special, merely a regional hub which contains a decent university and all that you would expect from a no-nonsense northern European town: bars, bicycles, everything closed on Sundays, and everything built around a train station. The Erasmus program however made it special by grouping around 100 international exchange students from all over the world together, and giving them the freedom to party, travel, make friendships and gain new experiences, all the while helping each other make sense of the new and alien culture they were all experiencing together: a sleepy Dutch town (or wherever you spent your Erasmus exchange). It doesn’t sound like much, but my categorisation of the experience as life-changing is not uncommon at all, and regularly throughout this year I have attempted to sit down to try and find something worthwhile to write about the legacy of my Erasmus experience, ten years on. The other day, while attempting such a brainstorming session, I realised that though I had always thought of the experience as life-changing in an abstract (and pretentious) sense, I had never fully grasped just how much the Erasmus programme had literally changed my life.


First things first, and with 10 years of hindsight, I realise now that while my Erasmus experience may have been a whirlwind of new experiences, cultures and people, it was in reality a very carefully controlled whirlwind. At the time, back in 2005, it literally felt like I was dropped out of nowhere into a completely different society and had to fend for myself. The real story was that in an Erasmus exchange, and especially at the beginning, you basically have someone holding your hand the entire way. I arrived in Tilburg and already had a place to stay for the semester, arranged weeks before by the university and its dedicated Erasmus Student Network (ESN), a group of student volunteers who were there simply to help in any matters related to integrating into Dutch society. I will add here that though the Dutch have their own language and are therefore not native English speakers, the level of English spoken by the average person on the street rivals that of any English speaking country in the world, so language was rarely an issue. ESN also organised parties and events to help us all meet other exchange students and thus facilitated in the making of new friends and experiences, which would have been much more difficult without their mediation.

The people you meet and the friends you make are what frame your experiences, and therefore they are the main part of what can make the Erasmus program so rewarding, as it seems like you are meeting people from all over the world, from all backgrounds and all cultures. Again, with ten years of hindsight, my view of this has shifted somewhat. I met many amazing people on Erasmus, and I have travelled and visited many of them since, and remain very good friends with a few to this day, yet to imagine that we all come from different cultures and backgrounds is a complete fantasy. The Erasmus exchange program seemed very inclusive, yet the entry barriers made it really a very exclusive event. Firstly, it was a university program, so in order to qualify each participant must have spent at least two years in higher education. Secondly there were significant costs involved in travelling to and living in a different country for a number of months. The entry fee for an Erasmus exchange is an education, and a not-insignificant amount of disposable income. This entry fee significantly limits the type of people who you can meet while on an Erasmus exchange program, to such an extent that I would go so far as to say that really you can only possibly meet people with a very similar upbringing to yourself, but simply born in a different country. The people you meet may have slightly different customs and cultures to you, yet otherwise the socio-economic class differential is quite small. The ability to participate in an Erasmus exchange puts you in a certain, small, traveling, upper-middle class elite such that now, 10 years later, when I meet an educated Turkish person abroad, I know that we have at least a second-degree common acquaintance. Again, I am not saying that the people you meet on Erasmus are not amazing, I am saying that it was a much more controlled experience than it seemed at the time.

This critical view of the Erasmus program is one that has been weighing on me the past year or so: this idea of it at the time being so transformative, yet in hindsight seemed merely like a group of similar people playing in a sandbox while thinking they were freely roaming the desert. There were amazing experiences, yes, and lifelong friends made, yet was it really so life changing? I mentioned the sandbox allegory above because this is the image that really made clear what the Erasmus program had actually done for me, and how it had truly benefitted me so much that I can really say that my Erasmus experience changed my life. Erasmus programs are sandboxes; they are small, controlled areas of an alien environment where those of similar standing can interact and make sense of that alien environment, on their own terms, and with careful guidance if necessary. The alien environment in this case is a country with a vastly different culture and language, and you get through it by interpreting it with the help of very similar people to yourself who are experiencing the same thing, and if this fails you have the actual aliens (the ESN!) to fall back on.

Before I went on my Erasmus exchange, I had never even entertained the idea of living in a non-English speaking country. The furthest points my imagination could take me to were a move to London or the USA. I literally could not conceive of a way to live in a society where I did not speak the language – it had never even crossed my mind. Barely a year after my Erasmus exchange ended, I was living on the other side of the world in Taiwan. A year after that, I went back to the Netherlands to complete a Master’s Degree. The next year I interned in Barcelona. The next year I lived in northern Italy. The next year I moved to Vienna. I am fluent in no language but English, my mother tongue, yet since I finished my Erasmus exchange ten years ago, I have spent less than two years in total in an English speaking country, with six months being the longest continuous period. Erasmus may have been a sandbox, but for me it was a sandbox where I learned that my world was not limited to the places where I could speak the language, and my entire decade since then has been driven by this lesson, a lesson that I am not sure would have been learned without my Erasmus experience of playing around in the sandbox of a provincial Dutch town, where everyone speaks Dutch, but perfect English if I needed to ask them a question. My Erasmus friends and I did just fine navigating our way around Tilburg, mostly without the ESN, and this made me confident in knowing I could move anywhere in the world without fear. This, as well as the great friends I made, is the lasting legacy of my Erasmus exchange, as I sit here writing this in Vienna ten years later, admitting that the experience literally changed my life.

Vienna City Bikes: An Updated Visual Users Guide

Some of you may remember a few years ago I wrote a very primitive post on deciding how to choose a CityBike here in Vienna. My internet skills have increased somewhat since, and hence I tried my hand at creating an infographic. The good people at Piktochart make this process quite easy (despite some html embedding issues), so if you are interested in making something like this yourself, give their site a visit.City BikesOr visit on Piktochart!




A Simple Guide To Understanding European Tabloid Newspapers

Travelling around a Europe and can’t understand the local tabloid headlines? Fear not, this simple guide should put you on the right track!
















For What Price A Beer on the Ring?

Austria is a beer-drinking country, but is also a country that has few open supermarkets during the main drinking hours. During the winter, Austrians crowd into warm bars to meet their drinking needs, but what about the warm, humid summers, where a cold beer outside is necessary? What fills the gap in demand during the main drinking hours of the day are a group of tiny stands known collectively as ‘Würstelstands’ (From hence I shall forego the umlaut!). These stands sell a variety of fast food (Wurstelstand means ‘sausage stand’, but the type of food sold at a stand can vary), as well as cold beer throughout the evening, night and early morn. They are particularly plentiful here in Vienna, where demand is highest. One thing that has always puzzled me about these Wurstelstands is the distribution of prices: at one stand a can will cost €2.50, while at another it will cost just €2.10. I have even seen some go as high as €2.80, or as low as €1.80. This is quite a high distribution in pricing for a product that is basically homogeneous: a 0.5 liter can of Austrian beer.

Click image for source (Photo by Gerald Reyes)

Continue reading

How Close Can Vienna Get To Brazil?

Even though Brazil is everywhere right now, with promotions running in every conceivable ad space to remind us that the FIFA World Cup is both imminent and important, here in Vienna it really is a long way to Rio. While the Coke ads show emotion, partying, and every now and again some football, the reality of a World Cup is actually quite different in a country that has not qualified for the tournament. What happens is you get all of this buildup, and then…. some football, and more promotions telling us how we are supposed to be feeling. Here in Vienna, there is genuinely a lot of interest in the World Cup, hence all the promotions and new TV’s in bars, and why we will find it difficult to find a bar stool on many match days, but the truth is that not many actually care about what happens at the World Cup. Austria is not in the competition, and Ireland isn’t either. I am very interested in the World Cup, yet I do not really care who wins, it is just for entertainment. You know, like a US election. Now, this is not another rant complaining about Vienna, for in this case, it is not her fault. It is because there is a disjoint between how we are sold the buildup (based on emotion), and what actually occurs (drinking and watching ads on TV). All the promotions are by multinational corporations who do one ad for the whole world, and don’t care who they hurt. Their biggest markets (US, Japan, UK, Germany, France, Australia etc.) have all qualified for the World Cup, so everyone else can just shut up and buy a Big Mac as if they too were at the same party as the big boys. So, the question arises: is it possible to get an actual World Cup experience here in Vienna, just like in the Coke ads, with people feeling things and everything? Continue reading

Why Austrian Supermarkets Suck Part I: The Queues

I have been meaning to do a big rambling rant on this subject for a while, but instead I am turning it into an irregular series. Here is the first part, about queueing at Billa, Spar and all the other sucky supermarkets they have here.

Here's the starting situation. Supermarkets are understaffed, so only one checkout is open. Five customers line up patiently, waiting there turn to pay and leave.

Here’s the starting situation. Supermarkets are understaffed, so only one checkout is open. Five customers line up patiently, waiting their turn to pay and leave.



Eventually another checkout opens. In normal places, this new queue at the new checkout is simply a transformation of the original line, where members take same places as before, each respecting their place in the original line. People can also choose to stay in the original line.




This is what happens in Austria. The second a new checkout is opened, everyone in the original line (and even people who were not queuing) rush to the top of the new line. As you can see, customer 3 has been mortally injured in the scramble.


It might seem like a simple, petty thing, but this is one of the many reasons why the supermarkets here in Austria absolutely suck. Please join me again in the near future where I hope to expand more on this topic. Also, feel free to add your own suggestions on how much these supermarkets suck by commenting on Facebook, Twitter, or right here!