Word of the Week: Haberer [ˈhaːbəʁɐ]

Noun. Haberer means friend, bro, (drinking) buddy, pal. Occasionally, the diminutive form Habschi is used, often sarcastically. Orig. from the Yiddish khaver (friend), which made its way into Viennese slang via thieves’ cant.  Perhaps its most notable use is in Da Jesus und seine Hawara (Jesus and his Pals), a retelling of the New Testament in broad Viennese slang by author and Kabarettist Wolfgang Teuschl – published in 1971 to some lively controversy, it has since become a literary classic.

Unsurprising for a small country, the principle of “it’s not who you are, it’s who you know” particularly applies to Austria. With only so many government contracts/boardroom jobs/subsidies to go around, the Old Boy’s Club is alive and well in politics, business and culture, with many networks deriving from school, fraternities, party youth organizations, golf clubs, card games and the like. This probably goes back to the monarchy, when aristocratic elites tended to distribute the cushy assignments among themselves – it didn’t take long for the new pols of the First Republic to get in on the action. Even Austria’s entry into the EU doesn’t seem to have affected the practice, frustrating many a foreign company’s attempt to break into the Austrian market – without knowing the right people. 

And while Verhaberung (the reciprocal relationships between friends in high places, a.k.a. Freunderlwirtschaft) is responsible for some of the nation’s biggest corruption cases – like the “Lucona affair” of the 1980s or the more recent “Buwog scandal” that ended with a seven-year sentence for former finance minister Karl-Heinz Grasser – most Austrians accept the practice as a fact of life. After all, a flawless resumé is no guarantee for Handschlagqualität (lit. “handshake quality”) – a much-valued character trait within Austrian culture, which entails trustworthiness, discreteness and a kind of conspiratorial integrity – similar to the English idiom “partner in crime.” 

It’s not all bad – as Verhaberung often crosses party lines, the kind of partisanship that plagues Anglo-Saxon politics is nearly unheard of here, and momentous decisions are just as likely to be made after hours at the Heurigen as in Parliament. Most locals are simply more comfortable around someone they bonded with during a drinking binge – at the very least, they’ve seen each other in compromising situations, rendering blackmail impossible via mutually assured embarrassment. 

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