29 November 2010

Sample Dialogue #2

On the street, in German.

Old Austrian Man: Excuse me, young man.  How tall are you?
Scott: (pause to convert to metric) One meter ninety-three.
Old Austrian Man: So big?  You look very healthy.
Scott: Thanks.

die Schmeichelei - flattery

26 November 2010


Apfelstrudel is basically apple pie.
I anticipated some anxiety on the part of my friends and family on the issue of whether I'd be having a proper Thanksgiving (sometimes called Erntedankfest, or Harvest Thanks Party) here in Austria.  To clarify matters like so much butter - I traveled on Thanksgiving to the village of Wieselburg, home of the famous beer (occasionally on special at the GCB in Providence).  Here I met with an American friend from Brown and we cooked a reasonable authentic Thanksgiving dinner, with the following minor exceptions:

-Instead of apple pie, we had Apfelstrudel, which is more or less the same stuff in a different pie dish.  The nutrional value, at least, is as lacking.
-Instead of cranberry sauce, we had cranberry marmalade.  Although it looked gourmet, I still missed the gelled kind that proudly displays the ridges from the tin can.
-Instead of turkey, we had chicken.  This particular substitution was unfortunate, but supposedly eating chicken is more eco-friendly anyways.
-Instead of American relatives, we ate with two Austrian adults, two New Englanders, and one girl from Northern Ireland.  In such a mashed-up casserole of dialects, I found the Austrian easier to understand than the Irish.

I also celebrated the holiday in the classroom by teaching my students all about our beloved and peculiar institution.  The one aspect they seemed most intersted in, oddly enough, was how to make a turkey out of construction paper by tracing your hand - a rite of passage for all American kindergarteners. 

25 November 2010

At the Movies

A few days ago I went to the cinema in Waidhofen with the other English TA in town, Sophy.  The theater is not far from my house, which is fortunate as it is the only one for many kilometers.  The theater itself is adorable and, with fewer than 100 seats, has a very personal feel.  Unlike theaters in the US, this cinema still uses assigned seating; the box office lady even presented us with a number of options to make sure we got the seats we wanted.

Despite the charm of the theater, I found the film - Harry Potter and the Heiligtümer des Todes, Teil 1 - somewhat lacking.  However, I will leave the panning to the real critics and focus, instead, on criticizing the terrible German dubbing.

Larger cities, namely Vienna, often have English movie theaters, but most cinemas play American films in the German language.  They employ voice actors called Synchronsprecheren, who are almost never famous in their own right.  The dubbing often looks completely ridiculous and unsynchronized and, what's more, the same American actors will be replaced by different German voices in different films.  In the Harry Potter series, the same actors in the same roles even have different voices in each installment. 

In addition to HP7, I also recently watched Sleepless in Seattle dubbed for a German television station (I am not ashamed).  In one especially absurd scene, Meg Ryan and Rosie O'Donnell mouth the German words to the Cary Grant movie An Affair to Remember, also dubbed in German, resulting in a rare and basically unintelligible instance of "double-dubbing."   

(I will say that I understood only about 40% of the dialogue of these films, which spared me from fully internalizing the sappiness of both Harry Potter and Sleepless in Seattle).

I think that a better approach to American films (or the occasional other foreign films) is to watch with German subtitles, rather than proper German voices, just as the best way to watch a German movie is with English subtitles.  I do understand, however, that a disproportionate amount of films and television programs in Austria, as elsewhere, come from the United States.  Thus, the dubbing of Hollywood, while atrocious, is perhaps an appropriate defence of non-English languages in a globalizing world.  I still think it's silly.

21 November 2010

Out of Burgenland

I have just returned home from my budget jaunt to the province of Burgenland, where the hills are neglible and the wine flows as freely as tap water at an American casual dining restaurant.

Burgenland - a province known for its Zweigelt grape variety and its proximity to Hungary is perhaps not Austria's most enticing province, but it is nonetheless a crucial cog in my newfound goal of visiting all nine Austrian provinces (although not necessary for my other newfound goal of visiting all eight of Austria's neighboring nations, even Liechtenstein).*

But beyond fulfilling my trivial and arbitrary geographic ambitions, I also had a great time reconnecting with some terrific American friends I made at orientation in Graz back in September and visiting some truly minor tourist attractions.  First and foremost among them was an eerie monument constructed by Nazis in the village of Oberschützen that has since been rededicated as a memorial to the horrors of racism and autocracy.
Approaching the former Nazi monument, finding the weather appropriate
Earlier in our travels, we also found a hideous, concrete dormintory that looked like a Soviet's failed attempt at completing a tangram puzzle without all the pieces.  We used the building as a background to practice making trademark, non-smiling Eastern European facial expressions.

Inconsiderate tractor traffic made for a very representative Burgenland photo
 We then visited a mostly-Hungarian cemetery and did our best to conceal any hint of enjoying the journey.
Perfecting the Eastern European art of not smiling in photos
Yet, at the end of the day, we were all happy to be together.  We enjoyed hot pizza and then a few of us even explored the village nightlife - namely the smoky halls of Discostraße. 

Americans prefer smiling, even while being burned by hot grease

Unfortunately one site that I did not make it to was the nearby village of Klingenbach, where in 1989 the Iron Curtain first ripped and allowed an indirect passage to the West for East Germans.  Another aspiration of mine is to return and snap a photo of myself running across the once-fortified border, hopefully under the surveillance of a confused but harmless border guard. 

Fortunately my somber and rainy return to the weekly grind at school was cushioned by the auspicious arrival of Waidhofen's official town Christmas tree, which, in my absence, appears to have been installed by municipal Christmas fairies in the center of one of our many traffic circles.

And finally, today's German word takes its inspiration from the lowly-populated region where I spent my weekend - das Dorf means "the village."

*So far I have been to four of nine provinces (Vienna, Lower Austria, Styria, and Burgenland) and only one of eight neighbors (Czech Republic).

18 November 2010

Things That Are Not Free in Austria

Although the following are usually free (or kostenlos) in the United States, they are often non-free in Austria:
The 0 Euro Coin, official currency of Greece

-Public restrooms
-Grocery bags
-Shopping carts
-Bread at restaurants
-Tap water

Then again, the following are free in Austria, but decidedly non-free in the United States:

-Prescription Drugs

Tomorrow I am headed to the Austrian province of Burgenland to reunite with some other American teaching assistants.  More on my travels on Monday.

16 November 2010

On Ice Skates and the Honors System

As many of my friends can attest, I am an abyssmally bad ice skater. I have terrible balance, I'm stiff, and I am deathly afraid of falling 1.93 meters to the ground. Why then did I recently purchase a pair of ice skates here in Waidhofen and what has this story got to do with the honors system? Good questions.

2007 - My last attempt at
As it happens, the public skating rink here in town recently opened for business and I decided to investigate the possibility of buying ice skates, with the intention of potentially become a more adept skater. Although I had little intention of actually fulfilling this pipe dream, I was convinced by a local shoesalesman to buy the most expensive pair of skates he had to offer. This decision was based on:

1. My inability to argue with him in German, and
2. His impressive no-questions-asked layaway payment plan - namely the "pay for the skates later and, no, I don't need any of your personal information" payment plan.

Low-Security Vending Bag
This type of trust-based business interaction would certainly not fly in the United States and it led me to consider much rarer the honors system is in the United States than in Austria, at least small-town Austria.  For example, my apartment required no security deposit, self-service vegetable/schnapps stands do not suffer from theft, and most Austrians purchase tickets for the underground even though you can usually get away without paying.  Newspapers are sold out of funny-looking, easy-to-pilfer bags (left) and many doors go unlocked.  In general, Austrians seem to trust one another more than Americans do - something I've found rather refreshing. 

Then again, it probably wouldn't be difficult for the ice skate salesman to find a 1.93 meter ice skater who only understood American shoes sizes and spoke German like a Kindergartener, should the honors system fail to inspire prompt payment. 

And naturally today's word of the day is Eislaufschuhe - ice skates! A wonderfully German portmanteau of ice skating (eislaufen, which is itself a combination of "ice" and "running") and shoes.

14 November 2010

Who is Krampus?

Krampus - the Publically-Sanctioned Child-Scarer
The handsome gentleman seen to the right is named Krampus, the beloved descendant of a terrifying, pre-Christian Alpine tradition.  I was introduced to him last night when an Austrian friend from Waidhofen generously offered to take me to a Perchtenlauf in the nearby town of Ybbsitz.  Having no idea what a Perchtenlauf might be, and feeling too embarrassed to ask, I gladly accepted the invitation. 

As it turns out, a Perchtenlauf is a traditional parade held annually in many Austrian towns during the Christmas season.  (NOTE: Although it is questionable whether the Christmas season has already properly started, I have noticed that without Thanksgiving as a semi-official starting line, Austrians have a harder time agreeing upon exactly when it is permissible to start celebrating and shopping like maniacs.)  Perchtenlauf is equivalent, perhaps, to America's Macy's Day Parade, but without Matt Lauer or the famously large (and sometimes deadly) balloons.  Instead, a traditional Perchtenlauf features packs of young men dressed as the character Krampus. 

These young men, who are active members of large Krampus clubs, dress up with horns and masks made of wood and sheep skin and wield torches, flares, and clubs as they march through the streets terryfing women and children.  Thankfully, no one is ever actually burned, bitten, or stabbed, and everyone has a good time.  Ample quantities of spiced cider increase the excitement and, along with all the flames, keep the crowd warm. (Click here for a cool Krampus-themed holiday drink recipe)

The Perchtenlauf in Ybbsitz came early in the season, as the busiest day of the year for Krampus is St. Nikolaus Day, the Sixth of December.  On the eve of this holiday, St. Nikolaus/Nicholas - essentially Santa Claus, but dressed more like the Pope (left) - brings presents to well-behaved children, but dispatches the gruesome Krampus to naughty children, whom are then dragged into the pits of hell.  When I asked my Austrian companions to clarify the relationship between Krampus and St. Nikolaus, they explained that they are neither friends nor enemies, but rather co-workers, with St. Nikolaus holding the dominant, upper-management position.

Outside of Perchtenlauf and St. Nikolaus Day, the Krampus tradition is carried out on weekend nights by young men who use the opportunity to harrass women with large cowbells, rusty chains, and home-made whips.  The practice is especially popular at nightclubs and in the province of Styria.  Although this tradition would certainly lead to legal action in the United States, it's all in good fun and even the children really seem to love it.

For some great news footage of one of last year's larger Perchtenlaufs, click here.

11 November 2010

Sample Dialogue

Part of my job is to educate Austrians about the USA and to dispel stereotypes about Americans.  Sometimes I perpetuate them by mistake.  Yesterday, while answering questions in class:

Student: Is it true that all Americans are obese?
Scott: No, not really... except in the South.

der Heuchler - a hypocrit

09 November 2010

Things I See While Jogging

So I've finally settled on a fixed course that I use just about every day to go running.  It's about 6 or 7 kilometers long and it offers a number of truly amusing sites.  Some are delightfully Austrian and some are just charming in their own right.  I usually run by:

Waidhofen's Cool Viaduct

-A self-service schnapps bar
-A fresh milk automat (milk appears to come directly from cows)
-Two cemetaries, one of which is adjacent to a retirement home
-A cool viaduct
-A restaurant that advertises "Five Euro Schnitzel Wednesdays"
-Three traffic circles
-A full-time castle, part-time nightclub
-A mountain
-Packs of older Austrians who seem to love their Nordic walking sticks, but also seem to ingore proper Nordic walking technique

I question the necessity of using poles.
And as a follow-up to my last post, the castle club night was a fun and successful adventure.  I have collected some real, live Austrian friends, one of whom taught me my new favorite German word and today's offering - das Kuddelmuddel.  It's an unbelievably adorable word for a mess or a mix-up, especially one that a child would create. 

04 November 2010

Attempts at Socializing

Unsuspecting castle becomes target of vicious Austrian club scene
Last weekend in Vienna I was fortunate enough to meet someone my age who comes from my adopted hometown of Waidhofen an der Ybbs.  Like most other Waidhofners (people from Waidhofen) between the ages of 18 and 45, she no longer lives in Waidhofen, but she was generous enough to offer to take me out this Friday and introduce me to other young adults this coming weekend.  For the record, I remain skeptical that there are other young adults in Waidhofen.

At her suggestion we're going to a club night in - naturally - a fourteenth-century castle.

Aside from the terrifying prospect of running into my students, I'm looking forward to the adventure.  Although I've gone out in Vienna and Prague, this will be my first attempt at my new Lieblingsdorf (favorite village).  With any luck the club will bear little resemblence to the most embarrassing place in Providence.

As a real, authentic German document, I've included a description from the club's Facebook page auf Deutsch (for a literal, yet quite comical translation, scroll to the bottom).

Getreu dem Motto „BLACK BEATS & CLUB TUNES“ werden die beiden Star DJ´s G-Dugz & El Amin das Waidhofner Rothschild Schloss mit fetten RnB, Hip Hop, House Beats in Ekstase versetzen.  Die beiden Deejay´s, die in den letzten Jahren unzählige Support Shows für Acts wie Katy Perry, Xzibit, Fatman Scoop oder Shaggy gespielt haben und im Moment unter anderem in der „Passage Wien“ die Plattenteller drehen , werden den CRYSTAL... CLUB regelrecht zum Kochen bringen.
"True to the motto "BLACK BEATS & CLUB TUNES," the two Star DJs - G-Dugz and El Amin - will put Waidhofen's Rothschild Castle in ecstasy with their fat R&B, Hip Hop, and House Beatz.  The two DJs, who have played numerous support shows for acts such as Katy Perry, Xzibit, Fatman Scoop, and Shaggy, and currently spin the plates at "Passage Vienna," will literally bring the CLUB to a boil." (a note on the misuse of the word "literally" in English).
Well, wish me luck as I head to da Club - or is it der Club...

02 November 2010


Me as Pirate/Cultural Ambassador
 With a name that's so ripe for that Halloween pun, it's amazing that the holiday has apparently only become popular in Wien in recent years - a fairly innocuous result of globalization, dentists aside. 

Thanks to the little-known, but very Catholic All Souls' and All Saints' Days, I enjoyed a second long weekend in a row and decided to visit the capital city and seek other be-costumed Americans who share my passion for gorging on Snickers, Haribo Gummis, and other Halloween hallmarks.

I reneged on my plans to dress up as Schoolhouse Rock's "Just a Bill" (too obscure for Austrians) and decided to dress as a pirate because I happened to own some appropriate clothing, although I sadly lacked a proper hook.  Despite living in a landlocked country, Austrians seem to appreciate that Johnny Depp-tinged pirate subculture that has been flourishing in the US for the past few years.  Just the same, I was surprised, but satisfied, when two youngsters shouted, "Ahoy, pirat!" at me in the underground.

To keep the weekend spooky, I also visited the Zentralfriedhof - Austria's largest cemetery.  Here I visited the graves of two of music's true legends: Beethoven and Falco.  Falco's grave was far and away the more popular and more stunning of the two.

Grave of Austrian Pop Legend Falco - of Rock Me Amadeus fame

As my word of the day, I offer Intimfeindschaft.  An Austrian friend of mine suggested that it was one of German's heavy hitters, and I certainly agree.  It translates literally to "intimate enmity or hostility," and I think it's roughly equivalent to the popular Americanism "frenemies."