For newcomers, Austrians can take some getting used to. But if you’re planning to get sick, Austria is the place to be.

Let’s be honest; if you’re planning to get sick, Austria is the place. That precious little green e-card in my wallet is my key to an Aladdin’s cave of medical cosseting. Before I’d have even reached the front of the queue in my native England, here I’ve probably had my blood scanned, my insides ultra-sounded and been referred to a specialist. All that for an upset stomach. If I hurt my knee, I might be sent on a “Kur.” For a sore throat, my Austrian friends are quick to recommend an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor. I didn’t know such a specialty existed; they each have one saved in their phones.

These are people who really care about their health. Except when they don’t – i.e. when they’re smoking and drinking. Which they do to such an extent that I suspect they see this rampant abuse as a sort of obligation: After all, we can’t let such good healthcare go to waste!

Austrians are in fact in the top three in Europe for smoking and drinking, and seem too fussy to indulge in any preventative medicine at all. The person who recommends your skin doctor, is probably baking themselves orange on the Donauinsel on weekends and if you ask to meet in a non-smoking bar for once, you’re considered a neurotic. After all, in a dark corner on the far side of the wide-open door in the Stammlokal, there’s a little “smoke-free” spot. It used to be where the mops were kept.

I admire this fatalistic nonchalance, well, I would, that is, except it’s applied, shall we say, rather selectively. I was sitting in a very smoky bar – what are you going to do, only socialize with expats? – back in March 2011, when news of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima hit. “That’s it!” said my friend, taking a massive drag on his cigarette. “I’m never eating a fish om the ocean again.” I later met a woman who told me she was taking her kids out of school because she was worried they’d “catch” radiation om a visiting school group om Japan.

Fear is a fickle thing, and dangers arbitrary: The same politicians who say a bit of passive smoking never hurt any night-shift waiter (medically proven), will also boast about their fight to ban glyphosate pesticides (scientifically unlikely). In this land of decadent hypochondria, I guess you pick your poisons.

And that e-card? I never leave home without it.

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