On the grand scale of world problems, Austria has relatively few. The land is fertile, the streets are safe, the public transportation abundant, the food affordable, and the tap water is not just drinkable, but also quite good. As many articles have taken the time to point out, Vienna is a great place to be, frequently ranked among the top ten "most livable" cities in the world. Austria may not be flowing with milk and honey, but it certainly is flowing with beer and mustard.
That being said, living in Austria is not without it's dangers, frustrations, and first world problems.
1. Spatial awareness of pedestrians
Take a moment to imagine, I mean really envision, what it would be like to herd a large group of cats...
... ... ... ...
...It's stunning how quickly it all falls apart.
Some of them respond to you, a few moving momentarily in the proper direction before stopping abruptly and hissing at you when you step on their tail. Others run off in the opposite direction, moving directly across or diagonal to the flow of traffic. Those moving in a uniform direction will weave in and out like they are running a slalom, only to slow and stop, distracted or confused, just as they step off the escalator. A small enclave moving at a slower pace will stretch out in solidarity, shoulder to shoulder with their companions, a languorously moving wall. The few moving quickly with hackles up, duck, run, leap around the others, claws extended and chaos in their eyes. They leave a wake of the traumatized shivering and bruised behind them, checking their shoved purses for stolen wallets.
Walking through the metro station is like herding cats.
2. Unpredictable store hours
To find stores closed on Sundays is commonplace throughout Europe. What has surprised us however, is the unpredictability of store and restaurant hours in general. Phil Coffee house doesn't open until 5:00 PM during the week, while Delicious Monster (gourmet hamburgers - the new Viennese food trend) is only open for lunch between 11:30 and 2:00 pm. Curry Up restaurant, on the other hand, is open for dinner only on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, although on Thursday they do offer lunch.
Far more perplexing than the restaurants however is the non-chain stores. Each has a set of entirely bizarre hours, and seemingly never have customers. Who is going to buy a €300 avant-garde stool from a store the size of a closet that is only open between 11-3 pm on weekdays that contain the letter "u"?
Furthermore, if no one is ever in the store, let alone able to sort out when it is open, how do these stores stay in business? Are they all fronts for the mafia? How do they afford their rent?
We may never know.
3. Telephone and Internet Providers
At this moment our internet and telephone services are functioning properly on a month to month basis - but that has not always been the case. Interacting with the telephone and internet service providers has been an exercise in misinformation given and hopeless mistakes made by very friendly and accommodating salespeople. They truly are unfailingly nice. But the amount of mistakes made during our brief period of interaction has been remarkable. Take, for example, our most recent experience in a growing list of "face-palm" moments.
Our internet had expired for the month so we went to the internet store to purchase credit for the next month. Purchasing the credit is a simple process of providing the internet SIM card number and receiving a voucher code that re-enables the service. "No problem", the friendly salesperson told us, "I'll put the code in for you and by the time you get home your internet will be back on." How wonderful! Thank you so much kind salesperson.
He walked away from his computer to print out our receipt and voucher code. During the moment he was gone another salesperson jumped onto his computer to do something. Our man returned, shoo'd the other salesperson away, and input the voucher code for us.
When we returned home, we did not have internet. An hour later... still no internet. Beginning to think, Oh no, not again, I called the customer service hotline, and miraculously, the one person in the office who spoke English picked up the phone. "Hmm...", she said, "it says that the internet is working right now." I double check a internet browser. Nope, not working. "Ok, let me double check the SIM-card number - is 0699... correct?"
No. 0699 is not correct. We don't have any 0699 numbers.
Then it dawned on me. The salesperson who jumped onto our guy's computer must have pulled up another phone number for another customer. When our salesperson returned to input the voucher code, he must have entered it to the wrong phone number. We had just paid for a month of internet for someone else.
Informing this to the friendly lady on the phone, she shared her empathy by dropping F-bombs profusely. Apparently, she agreed that this was a ridiculous situation, and very kindly credited us enough to cover a month and a half of internet service. Success!
Now, we should be ok as long as we can avoid interaction with the salespeople.
4. Chestnut season
Marroni season is just beginning in Austria, when vendors will set up metal-drum style coal fires to sell freshly roasted chestnuts in paper cones. Chestnut trees also litter the city, the trees dropping their fruit from the husks in large, shiny nuts. Come chestnut season, beware walking these parks, and prepare to duck for cover when you hear the trees rattle. There is a reason these things are called "Conkers" in England - they can make for a nasty unexpected whack on the head.
Appalled by the prices of chestnuts in stores, Jacob and I collected a purse-full of nuts from the park for roasting at home. We were feeling quite smug about it. How smart were we to capitalize on the natural resources at hand? Plus, we had been informed that these types of chestnuts were called "Buckeyes" in the states, and perfectly safe to eat.
That evening we prepared to roast our chestnuts for dessert. Jacob looked up directions online for roasting.
"CAUTION: NOT ALL CHESTNUT VARIETIES ARE EDIBLE"
Hmm...it might be good to double check that.
"Poisonous chestnuts come from husks that are less spiky".
Well, I don't really remember what the husks looked like.
"Poisonous chestnuts do not have the characteristic pointed tip of edible chestnuts"
Well, it was a bit of a stretch of the imagination, but was that a tip?
"Poisonous chestnuts come from trees that are planted in rows (such as in parks), unlike the solitary trees of edible chestnuts.
"The reason you find so many on the ground is that even the animals won't eat them. Consumption leads to severe vomiting and occasional temporary paralysis."
The internet saved our lives! No more unattended foraging for us.