Ex­pat’s Voice


Die Presse am Sonntag - - Österreich - VON MICHA­EL BERNSTEIN

Auf Wie­der­quat­schen! In the streets, the Vi­en­nese may be short-spo­ken. But be­wa­re when you meet them in pri­va­te, then they won’t let you lea­ve wi­thout fur­ther adieu!

As a ve­te­ran ex­pat in Vienna, I’m of­ten quiz­zed about cul­tu­ral norms – the “ri­di­cu­lous” opening hours, or the strings of tit­les. But first things first: Ta­ke “auf Wie­der­se­hen”, which to an Aus­tri­an is not the sa­me as “good­bye.” The words ap­pe­ar to me­an the sa­me thing, but in ac­tu­al prac­tice they are very dif­fe­rent

don’t me­an the ter­se „Wie­der­seh’n/Wie­der­schau’n” ex­ch­an­ge with your Tra­fi­kant, or the la­co­nic “Mahl­zeit” your col­le­ague mut­ters be­fo­re hea­ding out for lunch. I’m tal­king about ta­king one’s lea­ve at fa­mi­ly gathe­rings, a fri­end’s din­ner par­ty, or even a Kaf­fee­klatsch.

My ad­vice: Bud­get at least an hour from your in­iti­al “I’ve got to go” to the point when you are ac­tual­ly out the door. This can co­me as a shock: It’s no ac­ci­dent that English idi­oms li­ke “sho­ve off,” “run along” or “hit the road” are calls to ac­tion. The phra­se “Lei­der muss ich mich lang­sam auf den Weg ma­chen . . .”, li­te­r­al­ly, “I’m af­raid I must gra­dual­ly be on my way . . .” ma­kes it qui­te cle­ar that a snap­py exit is not what’s in­ten­ded.

Say you’re at a din­ner par­ty: As the eve­ning draws to a clo­se, you find your first fa­re­well is sim­ply igno­red and con­ver­sa­ti­on con­ti­nues. The ap­pe­ti­te for small talk seems in­sa­tia­ble. In fact, any to­pic will do, a mi­nor me­di­cal mi­se­ry or nug­get of neigh­borhood gos­sip. As each wa­ve aba­tes, you at­tempt ano­ther es­cape: “Now I re­al­ly must be off,” but find you’re foi­led on­ce again by so­me new tan­gent of ta­ble talk. And don’t think put­ting on your coat and shoes will sa­ve you. It just rai­ses the sta­kes.

On­ce, we tried a co­vert hand si­gnal – ad­jus­ting the strap of an ima­gi­na­ry wrist­watch – as a cue that it was time to scram . . . No such luck; in prac­tice, it fai­led mi­se­r­a­b­ly. In due time, we ex­pats ad­apt. Now, I find mys­elf thin­king that has­ty exits (i.e., shor­ter than 20 mi­nu­tes) are evi­dence so­meo­ne is ru­de or even psy­cho­lo­gi­cal­ly dis­tur­bed. I brought this up with a fel­low ex­pat, as we sat in his car id­ling outs­ide my buil­ding af­ter a par­ty. I rea­li­zed we had “quat­sched” for at least ano­ther 15 mi­nu­tes be­fo­re he fi­nal­ly dro­ve off. Af­ter I got up­stairs, I cal­led him. “We’ve go­ne na­ti­ve, oder?”

“Not even clo­se!” he in­sis­ted. “That on­ly took one round: You’d need four mo­re be­fo­re an Aus­tri­an would even no­ti­ce. And then, it would on­ly re­start the chat­ter.” “But at least I’m cal­ling you again,” I pro­tested. Af­ter a few mo­re mi­nu­tes of plea­sant Plau­de­rei, I fi­nal­ly hung up. Auf Wie­der­se­hen: Un­til we meet again. Die­ser Ar­ti­kel ist Teil ei­ner re­dak­tio­nel­len Ko­ope­ra­ti­on mit METROPOLE – Vienna in English, dem mo­nat­li­chen Stadt­ma­ga­zin für in­ter­na­tio­na­le Wie­ner.

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