What Being German in Vienna Is Really Like

Everyday Life – Part I

Naive as I was, I moved to Vienna expecting to be welcomed with open arms. But after a rather sobering first week as the 150,000th German journalism student, harsh reality came in the form of a hot, black and bitter drink, known to us all as: coffee. Everyone knows what is meant by this; everyone has the smell in their noses and the picture in their heads.

Well, except the Viennese. “I’d like a coffee please,” I said to the grumpy-looking waiter in front of me. “Of course, you do” he replied annoyed. Questioning glances were exchanged between us. “Miss, what kind of coffee would you like?” he eventually asked me, followed by an endless list of coffee variations. Whereupon my face immediately took on the shape of a question mark: “Well, just a normal black coffee please.” The waiter rolled his eyes, snorted “Piefke,” and shortly afterwards, I had an espresso in front of me.

As a German, living the Viennese dream of lingering in coffee houses is a quite difficult task, but with the understanding for Vienna, at some point also came the understanding of coffee. And somehow, since then, it also tastes different.

-Lena Pfeffer

During the football world cup of 2018, I was stuck in the office. Naturally, I watched the match Germany vs South Korea and felt my insides turn while witnessing the pathetic performance of my team, which lost 0:2. Even worse was the shriek of joy from my colleague working next door – she was on the phone with a friend and reveled at the sight of German devastation. She wasn’t even able to contain her Schadenfreude when I angrily poked my head through the door. So much for neighborly love.

-David Sievers

I was standing in a line in front of a shop; because everything was taking so long, I fell into conversation with the others who were waiting. With my accent, they of course noticed right away that I was German. At which a woman asked if I could please start a Piefke insurgency to get things moving.

-Robert Schaike

At Work

We hold special “Integration Evenings” for Germans, and one example comes up nearly every time: A German suggests an idea to an Austrian colleague, who says, “Interesting idea. Let’s look at this,” – when what he means is, “I’m going to leave it on my desk and do nothing – at least not right away.” But the German thinks he’s got a go ahead, will make a to do-list, and start setting up the files – while the Austrian was far from decided, but didn’t want to say “no“ directly.

-Fritz Bruckner, Vienna ExPat Center

Jockel Weichert came to Vienna from Germany as a marketing manager in the music business and did what he had been trained to do. From the first moment, he was super proactive, raising his hand in meetings, speaking up as it is welcome in German companies. “In an Austrian team, this is the worst thing you can do, especially as a German,” Weichert reports. “You are supposed to watch and see the dynamic and gradually find a place for yourself. And after a while, when you have been “accepted,” only then you can speak up. This definitely takes longer than in Germany.”

Other problems are historical: At least until the 1980s, the only reason a German company would send anyone to Austria was to fire people. If everything was going well, they’d just let the Austrians handle it. This has killed a lot of trust over time. If a German is sent here, everyone worries that heads are going to roll.

-Fritz Bruckner, Vienna ExPat Center

A typical case was a German client of ours, who had been appointed country director for a chain of DIY stores here. Eager to show his Austrian market managers he was on top of things, he prepared everything and called them all on the last day before the Christmas holiday with his detailed plans and suggestions. The reaction was ice cold. We could only guess  what had happened. They probably thought: “He didn’t even wait until after Christmas to tell us they understand everything better in Germany.” It took him a year to repair the damage.

-Fritz Bruckner, Vienna ExPat Center

Everyday Life – Part II

They say Viennese waiters tick differently. Some praise their grumpiness, some their snootiness, some their originality. What impresses me most is this last, their quick wit, something I have not experienced in a comparable way in Germany. My favorite waiter works at Café Hummel. He has recognized me for a few years now, and every time he does, we exchange conspiratorial glances. Once I was having lunch there and when he put the cutlery on the table, I noticed that the fork was dirty. I called him and drew his attention to it. He then made a very serious face, held the fork up to the light and inspected it closely: “Well, that looks’s really suspicious. We’ll send it to the lab right away!”

-Ingrid Götz

Summer 2007: Out in front of John Harris Fitness my beautiful mountain bike was pinched. I went to the police station to register the loss. An extremely unfriendly cop behind the glass told to take a seat on the bench until they got around to me. After some five minutes of gossiping with his colleagues (which I thoroughly enjoyed from just outside), he came back: “Ok, let’s have your data; ID… passport.” I gave him my passport on which my academic title is listed. And suddenly there was a dramatic change of tone: “Herr Doktor, excuse me, your bike has been stolen? What bad luck, come on in for a few minutes. Do you want some coffee?” In Germany or even Bavaria, something like this would never happen.

Alex Peez

When I ask myself what I, as a German, perceive as typically Viennese, I always remember one of my first visits to a bakery. It must have been in 1988, I stood in front of the display in the store, let my gaze roam over the baked goods, and made a decision: “Two rolls, please.” I then heard the saleswoman ask, “Which two would you like?” I still hear that question sometimes to this day, and I think it’s an incredible luxury to be able to choose exactly the two rolls, exactly the piece of bacon, exactly that plucked chicken that you want. At this level, the quality of service in Austria is unparalleled. Just as you can order 3 or 13 Dekas of salami as a topping for your roll.  Faced with such customer orientation, I become really humble.

-Ingrid Götz

Code Switching

Alex Peez has a photographer friend who on his first gig was to photograph the team at Austrian Airlines. His innocent request to the women with whose faces glistened, that they should be “noch mal gepudert” had them doubled up with laughter. To an Austrian, pudern has the secondary meaning of “to have sex.”

Jocken Weichert’s boss asked him if he had “urgiert” (to an Austrian, put some pressure on) a couple of clients. All Weichert could think was, “None of your g.d. business, if I am ‘putting moves on’ and with whom, you perverse so-and-so!”

And Jörg Zobel, then freshly arrived in Vienna, got himself in serious hot water asking a date if she would like to “schnacken” (chat) a bit. The horrified look on her face nearly gave him a heart attack. They were then able to explain: To an Austrian, a nearly identical word, “schnackseln”means to have sex.

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