Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the crowd … but every time the U-Bahn rolled into the station, there it was

“Steigen Sie aus?” (“Are you getting out?”) asked a frantic voice. I mumbled an apology and flattened myself against the divider.

Yes, yes, Vienna public transit is the best in the world… But that doesn’t stop its passengers becoming slightly neurotic at every stop. I acknowledge this is what the Viennese so charmingly call “Jammern auf hohem Niveau” (complaining at a high level). This is a favorite sport, and the U-Bahnen of Vienna are center ring.

In summer, things can be intense. The open windows amplify the squeaking of the wheels, creating a sound barrier blocking all coherent speech, or thought, for that matter. And in winter, bulky coats make it hard to navigate, but are too awkward to take off. No matter what season, chances are you will be sweating. The beeping red lights keep everyone on their toes, as an intrepid passenger comes flying through the closing doors like they are taking part in a parkour video.

How to explain this existential anxiety about being trapped in (or out) of the U-Bahn. Whenever, wherever, I seem to be between someone and the exit.

Austrians want to be prepared, and like preparing for war, they need to know which obstacles lie in their path, to plan their campaign. It’s particularly valuable when caught in an unlucky corner of strollers, shopping carts and backpacks, or the worst, inattentive smartphone zombies.

Sometimes it is the simple things that make life easier. Like the smooth readjustment of your bag that alerts your fellow commuter that you’re about to disembark. And asks wordlessly, could he please move his knees? And, miraculously, he does – but only once the U-Bahn has come to a complete stop.

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