Ex­pat’s Voice


Die Presse am Sonntag - - Wien - VON SI­MON BALLAM

This ex­pat of over 20 ye­ars finds a hi­d­den po­li­ti­cal agen­da in the pas­sen­ger in­for­ma­ti­on sti­ckers in tram and U-Bahn. A vir­tu­al ri­de to find the sour­ce of this sti­cky sto­ry.

Ex­pats are in­e­vi­ta­b­ly chal­len­ged in their ear­ly days in a new ci­ty with a new lan­gua­ge – but in Vienna, home­town of Ot­to Neu­rath, the fa­ther of pic­to­grams, the­re is help at hand. Cu­te litt­le sym­bols of kni­ves and forks, ele­va­tors and esca­la­tors, ATMs and gar­ba­ge cans are a gui­de in dark pla­ces.

The Wie­ner Li­ni­en, Vienna’s sple­ndid sys­tem of sub­ways, trams and bu­ses, al­so use images to en­cou­ra­ge ci­vi­li­ty. Dis­creet de­cals sug­gest gi­ving up seats to tho­se who need them mo­re, an old man with stick, a blind man, a pregnant wo­man, a mo­ther with in­fant . . . But wait! Didn’t I just see a wo­man with stick, a blind wo­man, and a man hol­ding the ba­by? (Hap­pi­ly, it’s still the wo­man who is pregnant.) Am I hal­lu­ci­na­ting . . . Or is the­re a mes­sa­ge lur­king in he­re so­mew­he­re. A few mo­re ri­des and the pat­tern is cle­ar: It’s no il­lu­si­on, the ne­wer trams and sub­way cars all car­ry the­se pic­to­grams. Is three wo­men to one man the new gen­der pa­ri­ty? Don’t creaky old men still de­ser­ve re­spect? Is the co­sy con­ser­va­ti­ve Vienna of Sa­cher­tor­te and Fia­ker lea­ding the neo-fe­mi­nist char­ge? Vi­en­naToo?

I de­ter­mi­ne to track down the sour­ce of this subt­le so­ci­al en­gi­nee­ring. First call to the Wie­ner Li­ni­en on a Mon­day morning: On­ly the Pres­se­stel­le can help me find the peop­le re­s­pon­si­ble and PR are not tal­king to the press to­day, they’re in an all-day work­shop. Two days la­ter I reach them: An in­tern an­s­wers, has no idea, „Ich lei­te es wei­ter . . .“(I’ll pass it on), world­wi­de bu­reau­crat-speak for „You’re in­ter­rup­t­ing my cof­fee break, I’ll get to it af­ter lunch, to­mor­row.“And any­way, „why would you want to know?“she adds. I de­ci­de to con­ti­nue the se­arch in my ima­gi­na­ti­on. I am in a gra­phics stu­dio de­di­ca­ted to pu­blic trans­port ad­ver­ti­sing and si­gna­ge, spe­cia­lists in self-ad­he­si­ve foil de­cals of ama­zing qua­li­ty. Li­ke a hel­ter-skel­ter ri­de in slow mo­ti­on I am sh­un­ted through va­rious de­part­ments – pro­cu­re­ment, ad­ver­ti­sing, for­ward plan­ning, book-ke­eping and track main­ten­an­ce – every sta­ti­on of my odys­sey see­mingly fur­ther from my quar­ry. Who is the per­pe­tra­tor of the new gen­der im­ba­lan­ce?

Fi­nal­ly, the bre­akth­rough: „That will be Room G430,“some­bo­dy tells me, Stie­ge 2, fourth floor. Al­re­a­dy in my fe­ve­r­ed ima­gi­na­ti­on I am stri­ding down the G cor­ri­dor, flin­ging open the door wi­thout kno­cking, catching my prey in fla­gran­te in the very act of com­ple­ting a new act of so­ci­al se­di­ti­on on sti­cky la­bels . . . „But it’s Fri­day, they go ho­me at 13:00 . . .“con­ti­nues the voice. Foi­led again, as it we­re. As any cof­fee hou­se phi­lo­so­pher can tell you, the­re are so­me mys­te­ries, we may ne­ver be gran­ted to un­der­stand. Die­ser Ar­ti­kel ist Teil ei­ner re­dak­tio­nel­len Ko­ope­ra­ti­on mit ME­TRO­PO­LE – Vienna in English, dem mo­nat­li­chen Stadt­ma­ga­zin für in­ter­na­tio­na­le Wie­ner.

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