23 May 2011

Austria: A Year by the Numbers

Number of cows I've been chased
by on a bike: 2
A numerical summary of 243 days in Europe. 

Countries visited: 12 (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Greece, Slovenia, Croatia, England, Liechtenstein) 

Bordering countries visited: 7/8 (damn Switzerland!)

Austrian provinces visited: 8/9 (damn Carinthia!)

Degrees Celsius when I went swimming in the Danube: 5

Liters of beer consumed (est.): 170 (based on national average of 108.3)

Average number of ice cream cones per week: 3

Bikes ridden: 7
Reflective moments spent
overlooking Innsbruck: 1

  Metro systems used: 9

  Airplane trips: 2

  Train trips (est.): 86

  Trips to Vienna: 20

  Balls attended: 4

  Public restrooms begrudgingly paid  for: 1

  Number of hostels visited: 10

Number of nights spent in a hospital: 1

Number of nights not spent in a hospital: 242

Classes visited: 28

Lesson plans created: 90.4 MB

Students murdered: 0

Number of blog posts: 64

Books read: 11 German, 10 English

Free time during the week: lots

Number of chickens in my backyard: 3

Kilograms of stuff I'm allowed to bring back: 46

18 May 2011

The Trouble with Treffpunkts

A Treffpunkt
One of the first things I noticed after arriving in Austria was a curious green sign that seemed to greet me everywhere I went.  Using my skills of deduction I determined that they either served to indicate places where groups of four are pointed at and ridiculed or where bald people perform a cappella.  I found out later that these ubiquitous signs are Treffpunkte, or meeting points. 

Meeting points in Europe, like their scarce brethren in the US, are logically and conveniently located in places like train stations, airports, and shopping malls.  What is most peculiar, however, is that they are also illogically and inappropriately found in places like dark alleyways, open fields (see photo), loosely-populated neighborhoods, and bodies of water.  Having spent some time considering the possible cultural significance of this phenomenon, I've come to the following Treffpunkt theories:

Where was everybody else?
-Austrians are incapable of identifying or describing natural landmarks.

-The traffic sign manufacturers' union has an unusual amount of sway within the Ministry for Placement and Installation of Unnecessary Traffic Signs.

-Austrians like to have tweetups in the woods.

-Americans just don't like to meet up as much as Austrians.

-Austria's abundant Treffpunkts have been set up by an underground network of drug dealers who have never heard of cell phones or when2meet.com.

Feel free to add any further theories as comments.  Together we can unlock this mystery!

15 May 2011

Fon in London

About two months ago I spontaneously booked an irresistibly cheap round trip fair to London with Ryanair - the preferred airline of tightwads, people with very low standards, and the Irish.  The many luxuries of flying with Ryanair include walking across the tarmac to the plane, qualifying a newspaper as "carry-on luggage" and holding your pee, but the price is just unbeatable. 

I was excited to go see this painting as I once
taught a lesson about this topic, despite
being majorly unqualified to talk about art.

After arriving at Stansted, I took a shuttle into the city, which I found to be astoundingly modern and multi-cultural in comparison to Austrian cities, despite the UK's alarming adherence to driving on the left.  The weather in London was uncharacteristically unbad, so we spent most of our time outdoors, walking from site to site rather than checking out the over-priced and over-hyped indoor attractions.  We did stop by to see the Tate Modern, home to the famous Roy Lichtenstein painting Whaam! (see right).  I also ran quickly into the British Museum to see the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon Marbles.  The museum described the latter set of statues as more or less "protected from the careless Greeks", although I remembered that in Athens they were essentially described as "stolen by the greedy British".  Museum politics are rarely so interesting.

Other than one English breakfast and a scone (sadly without clotted cream), I mostly stayed away from English food, which is often boiled and infrequently praised.  However, although England has a less-than-sterling culinary reputation, I thought that London was a great place to eat as there were restaurants serving food from just about every ethnicity imaginable.  And if you forget about the crushingly unfavorable exchange rate, the prices almost seem cheap!

Other than one English breakfast and a scone (sadly without clotted cream), I mostly stayed away from English food, which is often boiled and infrequently praised.  However, despite England's less-than-sterling culinary reputation, I thought that London was a great place to eat as there were restaurants serving food from just about every ethnicity imaginable.  And if you forget about the crushingly unfavorable exchange rate, the prices almost seem cheap!

I've always had an odd interest in massive, nineteenth-century department stores, so naturally I also checked out Harrods - the UK's largest shop and once home to one of the world's first escalators (which apparently caused such a stir that distressed ladies were given smelling salts and cognac to calm their nerves).  Having seen both Harrods and Buckingham Palace, I admit that it's hard to say which is actually grander.

My short trip was rounded out with a trip to the West End to see Wicked, which is even more fun than the reviews suggest. 


09 May 2011

Things I'm going to miss about Austria

Waidhofen Stadtturm, with
our 25 meter tall maypole!
I'll be leaving in just over two weeks, and I've started to think about the things I'm going to miss once I move back to the USA.  A bulleted list:

-Lovely springtime weather in the Ybbstal.  This valley is absurdly lush and it's been an amazing place for hiking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and outdoor napping.

-Practical, non-Amtrak train travel.

-Having things to blog about

This spring Waidhofen got really
green, really fast. 

-Drinking outdoors not necessarily indicating that one is a degenerate. 

-Having sales tax included in the listed price of goods at the store and thus feeling as though I do not pay sales tax.

-Practicing German.

-Topfen (also known as Quark in Germany), a type of curd cheese that is a healthy, tasty, cheap, dress-it-up-dress-it-down miracle food.

-Austrian Gemütlichkeit

-Being employed.

-Austrians, Americans, and even Brits that I've met, blahblahblah.

-Referring to people with definite articles before their names, as Austrians tend to do.
Ex: "Hello, I am the Scott, it is nice to meet you." "Hello, you may call me the Helmut.  Are you friends with the Carinna?" "Do you mean the Baumgärtner Carina." "Yes, her." "Oh, then I am friends with the Carina."

Stayed tuned for things I'm not going to miss about Austria (a much shorter list).

03 May 2011

The Road to Vienna

Translation: "A sign with the Austrian flag, this must be the way to Vienna!"
Austrians in the countryside tend not to be crazy about the Viennese, espcially when driving.

25 April 2011

The Land of Oil, Wine, and Delayed Trains

View from a monastery in Monterosso -
Italians love the Lord almost as much as
they love smoking cigarettes while riding
I've just returned from two full weeks in Italy and, although I enjoyed myself thorougly, I think that I'll be taking a long break from pizza, gelato, and Catholicism.

Unfortunately, I cannot say that I really recommend visiting urban Italy.  I thought that Rome and Florence, though full of sites, lacked the charm and culinary delights that they are known for internationally (Pisa, which thankfully I visited for just one afternoon, has roughly zero redeeming qualities).  Rome, where I spent the most time, is certainly the place for grandiose fountains, archaeological treasures, and very wide steps.  However, outside of the city's many UNESCO sites and other tourist hellholes, it looks and feels a lot like New Jersey, but with fewer Italians.  I actually prefered Genoa, a city I visited right before Christmas, perhaps because it is relatively removed from the tourism radar, perhaps because I was staying with a real-live Italian at the time.  
The rocks were no match for me in Riomaggiore
I'd say that the best thing about my trip to Rome actually had nothing to do with Italy at all.  The highlight of the trip was really practicing German and celebrating my birthday with my students and teachers from Austria.

After a jam-packed week in Rome, I destressed for four days in the Cinque Terre, an increasingly-popular-but-not-quite-yet-dominated-by-tourists slice of the Ligurian Coast with my friends Katie, Taylor, and Jenni, as well as a New Zealander named Simon.

We hiked between the five small villages that compose the Cinque Terre, relaxed on the beach, rented bicycles, sampled every different combination of gelato flavors, and religiously followed the Rick Steves guided tour of each town (whose passionately-written guide is often held responsible for the increasing prominence of tourism here).  We stayed at an atypically clean and uncharming hostel in Corniglia, the smallest of the five towns.  The village was a good place to stay because of its strategic location and the 382 steps between the town center and the train station, which helped us in the daily struggle to burn off the oily and over-priced focaccia bread that sustained us.  Leaving our village behind was a real tragedy, although it's good to be back in Austria for the tail end of my travels.
Taylor and I searching for the train station

A anecdote and fun fact about the Italian work ethic: One time I needed to wait 19 minutes (I clocked it) to buy two stamps at an Italian post office even though I was the only customer in line and there were approximately five employees behind the counter.  It's really no surprise that Italy has the world's sixth largest gov't budget for the world's twenty-third largest population.   

24 April 2011

Sample Dialogue #8

Patriotic Austrian Easter Eggs
are much easier to dye than American
In class, during a lesson on holidays.

Scott: Can anybody explain why we celebrate Easter?
Student: Easter is the day when Jesus stood up and drove to heaven.
Scott: With the bus or with the car?

Aufstehen -  "to arise/to stand up"
die Himmelfahrt - "the Ascension," more literally, "heaven drive"

12 April 2011

Easter Itinerary

Since Italy and work/productivity are more or less incompatible concepts, I may not be able to update the old blog very frequently in the next two weeks, however anyone who's curious parties can always consult the following travel schedule.
At least eleven trains will be ridden in the
next two weeks.  Time will tell what
percentage of the Italian ones will be on time.

April 12 - Overnight train to Italy
April 13 - Rome (Colosseum, Circus Maximus)
April 14 - Rome (Vatican, St. Peter's)
April 15 - Pompeii/Subiaco
April 16 - Rome (Catacombs, Spanish Steps)
April 17 - Rome (Pantheon)
April 18-21 - Corniglia/hiking in the Cinque Terre
April 21 - Pisa
April 22 - Florence
April 23 - Florence
April 24 - Klagenfurt
April 25 - Vienna
April 26-May 4 - Waidhofen
April 29 - Innsbruck
April 30 - Bregenz
May 1-4 - Waidhofen
May 5-May 8 - London
Then just 17 days and I'll be back in America!

09 April 2011

A Challenge for Bored Blog Readers

I've hidden a link somewhere on blog that will direct you to a secret blog post.  See if you can find it - unless you have something better to do with your time, you know like painting, exercising, or being employed.

Things that I collect

Living in Europe and having too much free time has inspired me to pick up two not-so-glamorous hobbies: keeping a blog and collecting things.  To combine my two passions, a list:

-Austrian beer coasters.  Anyone that can find me a Schwechater, Zwettler, or a Puntigamer would complete my collection and be my hero!  Although most all Austrian beers taste the same, their coasters have cool designs and slogans.  My favorites are "das bierige Bier" ("the beery beer") and "Ein Glas heller Freude" ("a glass of delightful joy").  Also, anyone with a suggestion for a lovely coaster art project please speak up!

-Currencies.  The euro really ruined my opportunity to collect currencies.  I've only got four so far, not counting the ten-dollar bill I've been carrying uselessly since September.

-Metro tickets.  So far I've got Vienna, Prague, Munich, Hamburg, Berlin, Budapest, Athens, and Zagreb.

One of the only German hairdresser
puns I've ever seen.  It's a play on the
words for "progress" and "cut."
-Animal stickers from Billa, initially intended for children to stick in a sticker book.  If anyone has the bottom-third of the giraffe sticker, I'm willing to trade.

-Postcards.  I guess that one's not that weird.  Send me some more.

-Photos of hairdressers with punny names like "Curl Up & Dye," "British Hairways," or "Hair Force One."

An unrelated word-of-the-day, but one which I find amusing, if a little morbid, is das Leichenschauhaus.  It means "morgue," but in little German chunks it means something more like "dead body looking-at house."

05 April 2011


 Saturday was the 27th International Waidhofner Stadtlauf Footrace and, despite a fairly steep registration fee to pay just for the right to run in a big circle four times, it was a real blast.

The weather was fantastic and I'd never seen so many people out on the streets.  What's more, all of the runners earned free sausage and rolls at the finish line, which I thought was much cooler than the bananas and Kool-Aid you get at the end of an American race.*  We also got a sweet bag full of snacks, toothpaste, and a lighter (not sure what message that combination of goodies was trying to communicate).
Me, castle door in background

The course itself was 6.1km and consisted of four laps around the city, during which you cross the Ybbs River twice and climb the so-called Badberg once (the "Berg" does not live up to its name and reputation and, in fact, barely qualifies as a hill).

The children featured on the event's
poster do not reflect the actual
ferocity of the competition.

Despite the multicultural sounding title of the event, I'm pretty sure that my friend Luke and I were the only foreigners in attendance.  In fact, we were disappointed that "Fastest Foreigners" wasn't a category, since we certainly would have taken first and second.  I also thought that special prizes should have been given out to anyone brave enough to hit up the castle/nightclub event the night before and still race despite the hangover. Massive shiny trophies would have made a nice, if difficult to bring home, souvenirs. 

After the run and the sausages came the Siegerehrung, or awards ceremony, which you had to sit through to reach the Tombola, or raffle, which was clearly rigged to favor the Austrians in attendance.

*Interestingly, I also found out recently that Austrians get red wine instead of cranberry juice after giving blood.  Typisch.

31 March 2011

America vs. Europe - Grocery Store Edition

Dogs are theoretically forbidden
from Austrian grocery stores.
A recent trip inspired me to point out some of the more comical differences:

-Whereas American supermarkets are known for hiding the milk in the back of the store to make you walk past all of their other offerings, Austrian grocery stores are more likely to apply this principle to beer and wine.

-American grocery stores usually provide free and limitless shopping carts, while Austrian stores usually require a small deposit for each cart, presumably to discourage theft, although I think that anyone who really wants a shopping cart is willing to pay €.50 for it.  (Tip: Austrian shopping cart dispensers also take American coins!)

-America: 168 open hours per week. Austria: 72.  See: Gemütlichkeit.

-Produce in Austrian grocery stores often needs to weighed and labelled by the customer - a task that I think many Americans would be incapable of.  I myself have gotten majorly scolded for forgetting.

-Supermarkets in America often provide customers with free bagging service.  The lack of such a service in Austria has surely destroyed a potential job market for teenagers, ex-cons, retirees and other qualification-impaired individuals.

-Peanut butter here is 100% more expensive and you get weird looks for buying it.

And for today's German lesson, I'd like to point out how amusing it is that the names of German meals can also be used as verbs, which is certainly not the case in English.  Thus, das Frühstück is "breakfast" and frühstücken is "to breakfast."

29 March 2011

The Danube

Swimming in the Danube - I'm the one
on the right.
I spent the last weekend in the Wachau wine valley town of Krems an der Donau, which as the name suggests, is an der Donau - on the Danube.  During my stay and at the suggestion of my impulsive and lightly-unhinged friend Luke, I even went swimming in the river, which was about as warm as the frosty Wiener Eiskaffee I had the day before.  In honor of this foolish undertaking, I recount here a brief history of the Danube River:

The Danube is Europe's second-longest river, behind its pompous and overbearing competitor - the Volga in Russia.  It flows through ten countries along its course from the Black Forest in Germany to the Black Sea in Romania.  It has been an important trading route for centuries and often provided the northern border for the Roman Empire, before they gave in to the excessive drinking and overt laziness that has since characterized that part of the world.       

Earlier in the day I enjoyed a poppy-seed
ice cream cone, another activity for
which the weather was not appropriate.
Culturally, the Danube has featured strongly in Austrian, and more generally, Central European works for centuries.  It figures prominently in the Bulgarian national anthem and lent its name to Johann Strauss's The Blue Danube waltz (German: An der schönen blauen Donau), which is arguably the unofficial national anthem of Austria.  The waltz, incidentally, is played ad nauseum in all major tourist traps, especially the Prater amusement park, where it is played in a maddening loop that park employees must really hate. 

After the Austro-Hungarian Empire disintegrated in 1918, Austria's control of the river was reduced from 2,840 km to just over 300.  Austria, now a landlocked country, shed its navy save the intrepid, if silly, Danube Flotilla, which continued to sail up and down the river protecting nothing until it became too comically irrelevent to maintain, in 2006. 

The Danube has since become a major destination for international tourists as well as Austrian bathers allured by both its beauty and the utter lack of bathing alternatives.  I'm told that, in the summertime, the oddly California-sounding Vienna City Beach Club is extremely popular with Austrians both clothed and nude.  The Donauradweg bike path runs more or less the entire length of the the river and Austrian portion of the route is supposed to offer a fabulous ride, especially when done downhill, from west to east.  I have ambitions to one day bike the 340km portion from Passau to Vienna, although I may not get to it this year, as my bike is about half the size it needs to be for me to use comfortably. 

Overall, the Danube offers a number of enticing activities, although these do not include March skinny-dipping, which remains ill-advised...

26 March 2011

Sample Dialogue #8

In English class, during a presentation on fantasy vacations.

Student: I don't think we will have any problems in the Bahamas.
Scott: Do you think you will have any language problems?
Student: No, we can speak English really good.
Another student: Well!

And in honor of the animal stickers from the grocery store that I've started collecting (yes, they are meant for kids), today's words of the day are some of my favorite animal names in German.  Das Stinktier is a skunk (literally, stink animal), das Faultier is a sloth (literally, lazy animal), and der Hundertfüßer is a centipede (literally, hundred legger).

21 March 2011

This Old House

My Coordinates
During a long chat over Gugelhupf with my landlady yesterday, I got two good earfuls of stories about the house where I live in Waidhofen - some funny, some tragic, some touching.  Omitting the boring parts:

The house was built in 1905 by some guy named Leopold Fallmann, whose name is still on the house.  It's been in my landlady's family since 1934, at which point in time it housed four entire families (it now houses one American, one Austrian, and one Hungarian, whose German is about as good as the cat's).  During this time one family lived in my two-room apartment and another in the dining room across the hall.  They apparently hated each other so much that they often threw their buckets of human waste against each others' doors.  There was no plumbing.

During the war a Nazi tank ran out of gas directly in front the house and later exploded.  It burned for three days and blew out all of the windows on that side of the building.  My landlady's father later stole a wheel from the tank and used it for his rope-making apartus, while the local children used the cannon as a balance beam.  Another time a Nazi drove by the house and screamed to the balcony, "Ist hier Klagenfurt?"  To his dismay Klagenfurt is, and was, about 95 miles away.

After the war, retreating Austrian soldiers marched along Weyerer Straße, a half a block from my house, on their way to Vienna. They were, apparently, not in an especially good mood.

During parts of the occupation, which lasted from 1945 to 1955, the house quartered a Soviet soldier.  He took up more than his fair share of the living space, but was quite nice to the children.  He taught them Russian words and gave them lollipops, which they had never seen before and did not know what to do with.

Things have quieted down since 1955, although in the past year two hens were eaten by a badger and one rooster drowned after being chased into a large puddle by n'er do well neighborhood cats.  Turns out they're as bad at swimming as they are at flying.

And for anyone who was curious, the answer to the fake headline quiz was "Foreigners Seen J-Walking: Police Take Action."  This is for the best, as the foreigner in question would almostly certainly have been me.

19 March 2011

Local News Highlights

Newsworthy is a relative term
Six real headlines from the local newspaper, Der Ybbstaler. One is fake, see if you guess which!

"Vandalism at Schnabelberg: Viewing Platform Badly Damaged with Chainsaw"

"Fifty Tons Artificial Manure Stolen"

"Guesthouse Death Continues: Waidhofen's Gastronomy in Crisis"

"Foreigners Seen J-Walking: Police Take Action"

"Rolling Stones Drummer Charlie Watts Rocks Amstetten"

"His and Hers Ski Race Planned at the Forsteralm: Costumes Mandatory."

"One Night Around the World: Boy Scout Ball 2011 - Ball Pleasure of a Special Type."

Answer to be included in the next update.  Please feel free to post your guesses as comments.

15 March 2011

Miscommunication - Pi Day Edition

Pi Day - The day when math teachers
attempt to reconcile Americans' love of
pie with their hatred of math.
For those who didn't realize, yesterday was Pi Day, so called because it was March 14, or 3.14 - the first three digits of pi.  I tried to explain this to one of my teachers and I failed for the following revealing reasons:

1. Austrians, and Europeans in general, write dates "backwards" (to Americans).  Thus yesterday was 14.3 and not 3.14.
2. Austrians don't really ever think about pie.  They're proud of their cakes and would probably never be caught dead with a slice of Mrs. Smith's PreBaked Dutch Apple Crumb Pie, even though Apfelstrudel is more or less the same thing.
3. Even if you met an Austrian who, despite all odds, loved both pie and geometry, he wouldn't even get the pun, as pi is not even pronounced the same way in German.  It's pronounced like "pee" and somehow "Pee Day" is just not as appealing.
4. Austrians, to generalize, just don't understand puns.  It's why Austrian crosswords are so inferior and about 20% as difficult.

And in honor of Pi Day, today's word is unendlich, which means, predictably, "infinite."

12 March 2011

Most Interesting Lessons I've Taught So Far

Advanced English vocabulary
For every mind-numbing lesson I've had to teach on banking vocabulary and Heathrow Airport, I've gotten to teach at least one on a more interesting topic, often one that allowed me some amount of creativity.  A partial list of the more interesting ones is below, although I should admit that "interesting" means I found it interesting and certainly not that the students necessarily shared my enthusiasm.

-Is Paul dead?
-Is Tupac dead? (the class firmly decided that he is not...)
-Human vs. robot Jeopardy! match
-Facebook (I printed out my friends' profiles and made students assume their identities)
-American artists*
-Pop art*
-Ivy League lightbulb jokes (match the college to its stereotype!)
-Bobbing for apples
-Misunderstood lyrics
-Are you a Republican? (turns out they're not)
-The death of the Sony Walkman R.I.P.
-Comparing James Bond actors
-E-Books (just kidding, that sucked)

And I'd be happy to share any of these lessons with struggling English teachers or really bored Austrians.

*Stars indicate that I was completely unqualified to teach this lesson, but did so anyways.

09 March 2011

Sample Dialogue #7

In the classroom, in English.

Scott: So who do think the narrator is?  A guy or a girl?
Student: A girl.
Scott: Why's that?
Student: She's talking about her feelings.

07 March 2011

The Wiener Eistraum

Wiener Eistraum, at night

The Wiener Eistraum, which translates ridiculously into English as "Viennese Ice Dream," is a massive skating rink set up in front of the Rathaus in Vienna and hosted, appropriately, the season-closing grand finale to my illustrious ice-skating career in Austria. 

Unlike the modest indoor skating rink in Waidhofen, with it's oomm-pahh music and rentable training penguins, the grand Wiener Eistraum (live webcam is sadly no longer functional...) was not for the faint of heart.  It consisted of two large rink areas and several one-way paths that wound around trees, lights, and speakers.  Some of the paths were strenuously uphill while other were frighteningly downhill.  Like so many ski slopes, the rink was also filled with fearless rocket-children apparently yearning to take me out at the knees.

My friend Emily and I had an excellent time skating around and managing to stay upright the whole time.  The highlight of the night, however, was passively watching the mesmerizing Zamboni, or Eisbearbeitungsmaschine in German.  We were far from alone in our fascination with the machine's magic ice-melting powers and its driver's expert cornering maneuvers.  I found it reassuring to learn that Zamboni-watching is an international phenomenon. 

04 March 2011

Na Endlich. Skifahren!

Until yesterday, 2011 had been a long, hard winter of bearing questions from my students and co-workers regarding whether I had been skiing, how many times I'd been skiing, how good I was at skiing, and what I thought of Lindsey Vonn - often followed by disappointed, confused, and even disgusted looks after I admit that I have never been skiing in Austria and have no opinion about Ms. Vonn.  Who is she, exactly?

Me, arriving at the train station near Forsteralm.
My proud grimace disguises my overwhelming fear of
falling off the mt.
But all this has changed now that I've officially been skiing in Austria!  And what's more, I lived to blog it.

My friend Sophy and I had been delaying a trip to the very nearby ski mountain Forsteralm for months and we finally made it, with a just few days left in the season.  I had found it difficult to gather the motivation, as I am (or was...) certainly a nervous, anxiety-ridden greenhorn of skier, as those who witnessed my one and only attempt at skiing in the USA last year could attest.  Yet I like to think that I control my fears and not the other way around, so I headed for the slopes.

Although the mountain is not far from Waidhofen, getting there without a car does require scaling a massive hill by foot.  Fortunately we were picked up by a generous Austrian named Fritz, who, like everyone I met in Waidhofen, was somehow related to someone I work with.  Later in the day Fritz treated us to some delicious hazelnut schnapps at the Austall lodge and even offered us door-to-door service home.

As for the actual skiing, I was skittish at first, but after falling once and remembering that it doesn't actually hurt that bad, I started to gain confidence.  Other than that introductory fall at the top of the mountain and a later, regrettable incident on the t-bar lift, I stayed on my feet the whole time.  Toward the end of the day I even got an unironic compliment from a real, live Austrian.

It was a perfect day for skiing, as the weather was warm, the snow still powdery in places, and the slopes virtually free of fearless rocket children - my least favorite winter sport hazard.  We also got lucky and scalped our ski passes at a big discount (my first crime in Austria, shhhh...).  The resort itself is nice and its lodge, like many other unsuspecting corridors in Austria, transforms into a nightclub on the weekends.  Unfortunately I think it's too packed with teenagers for me to ever dare enter.

All in all, it was very successful trip and, unlike my last attempt at skiing, I didn't even bring home any bruises as souvenirs.  In fact, I've been inspired to try out skiing in the Tyrol, where I'm told the season can last as late as May. 


02 March 2011

Denglish = Deutsch + English - Proofreading

Although I freely admit that my students are usually quite proficient in English (in many ways better than I am in German), they do regularly make a few mistakes that sometimes make me smile and sometimes make me cringe.

"What did you do this weekend?"
"On Friday I made lots of party and all day Saturday I learned English."

"What did you do for Valentine's Day?"
"I was by my boyfriend and I become chocolates from her."

"Can you German?"
"I cannot.  Can you English?"

"Nice to meet you." (upon >10th time meeting you)

"What did you do this morning?"
"I stood up at 6:30 and then I drove with the bus to school."

"And you?"
"I also."

These mistakes tend to make sense when translated literally from German, but sound rather comical in English.  Hearing "Denglish" is usually a sign that language learners are still thinking in their native language and then trying to translate in their head, which is certainly not the most effective way to speak a new language, although I too am guilty of it.  Especially when I say things like, "Ich will morgen meinen Freund in Wien besuchen/I want to visit my boyfriend in Vienna tomorrow!"

25 February 2011

Austrian Gemütlichkeit

It's hard for me to believe that with so many great words in the German language, I've yet to devote an entire post to explaining one word.  But here goes:

Like many useful German words, gemütlichkeit has no real equivalent in English.  It refers to a lifestyle that is some combination of comfort, coziness, relaxation, sociability, and enjoyment, mixed, perhaps, with a touch of laziness.  Overall it's a very foreign idea to Americans, who tend to value things like work, stress, meritocracy, very short lunch breaks, and insanely large cups of coffee.

Living in Austria has sapped some of my motivation, except
when it comes to blogging and napping.
To me, gemütlichkeit is one of the defining characteristics of Austrian culture; it also constitutes a major difference between Austria and a certain larger, less-Catholic German-speaking country in the neighborhood.  In fact, Austria is like a much snowier version of Spain, with many Austrian shops and businesses closing for several hours in the middle of the day for employees to take a break (although ritualistic napping is much less prevalent here).  Even some smaller cafes in Waidhofen close their doors between twelve and three in the afternoon, which you don't need to be an associate at the Boston Consulting Group to realize is not the best business strategy for a lunch place.

Then again, maximizing profits is not as emphasized in Austria as in the US - one Viennese entrepreneur named Richard Lugner, most famous for bringing hot American celebrities to the annual Opera Ball, appears to be the only Austrian who realizes or even cares how much money you could make be increasing the opening hours of shopping centers and grocery stores.  The Austrian Catholic Church, trade unions, and 81% of the Austrian population want nothing to do with commerce on Sundays.

Gemütlichkeit is also an especially pervasive attitude in the schools where I work.  Teachers are known for being >5 minutes late to their own classes ("I had to finish my coffee, it's not healthy to chug...") and students tend to be mysteriously ill on days when they are meant to make presentations.  Overall schools here are much more relaxed than in America, as I am frequently reminded on days when my classes are canceled because the students have unexpectedly all gone to the movies or are off on a multi-day ski trip.     

What's remarkable about Austria's gemütlichkeit is that, despite the fact that all employees enjoys a bare minimum of five weeks paid vacation per year (unvorstellbar in America!), plus thirteen paid public holidays, society still runs smoothly.  Unlike in Greece or Italy, trains are on time, garbage is picked up regularly, and even the employees at the tax office are helpful (assuming you visit them during the 25 hours per week that they're actually open).  Relaxation, apparently, does not impair efficiency.  Nor does drinking 13 liters of pure alcohol per year or retiring at age 58    

Austria proves that a society's quality of life can be extremely high, despite stress levels that are significantly lower than in America, where recent college grads have been known to to work 70 hours per week without any days off for several months unpaid for the sake of "experience."*  In fact, this stress differential may be why Austrians can eat so much fried food, cured meat, and saturated fat, yet still have a much lower incidence of heart disease than Americans.  Just a theory...

*q.v. Gabbi Greenfield's life           

23 February 2011

Sample Dialogue #6

Two quotes of note from the classroom today.  In English.

Scott: So what does it mean if the president is "impeached" in America? 
Student: It's like when the president is arrested.
Scott: Sort of, do you know who the last president to be impeached was?
Student: Gaddafi?

Scott: Do you like the snow? [context: it's snowing today]
Student: Not really.  I want spring to come.
Scott: When does spring begin in Austria?
Other Student: Every year.

putschen - to revolt

21 February 2011

Sample Dialogue #5

In my apartment, shortly after the invasion of Jackie the cat.  In German.

Landlord: Scott, have you seen Jackie?
Scott: Yeah, he just ran in here.  He´s hiding under the couch.
Landlord: Oh Jackie´s so curious.
Scott: Well, as we say, curiosity killed the cat.
Landlord: We don´t say that.
Scott: Oh...

das Katzenklo - litter box (literally, "cat toilet")

15 February 2011

Ljubljana - Not Just for Spelling Bees

After returning from Greece, I also made a short jaunt to Slovenia and Croatia, which thanks to the breakup of Yugoslavia twenty years ago means I get to add two countries to the list of places I've been (lifetime total up to fourteen, from just four one year ago).  Slovenia being one of Austria's neighbors, I also got one step closer to my arbitrary ambition of visiting all eight of its bordering countries (6/8=75%).  I look forward to being done with that list so I can cross it off my list of lists to cross off.  "Obsessive tendencies" remains on my list of character flaws to work on.   

Like many small cities in Austria,
Ljublana is almost to cute to function.
Well as for the trip, I had fantastic weather and a fantastic time.  In just one day in Slovenia I learned what the capital city is called (Ljubljana), how to pronounce it (loo-bee-lanja), and even a few words of Slovene (Hvala = hello).  An interesting note about the Slovenian language, which by the by is not the same as Croatian, is that its one of very few languages that have different declensions for the singular, plural, and dual forms of nouns.  Ordering beer in Slovenian is good practice: pivo = 1 beer, pivi = 2 beers, piva ≥ 3 beers. 

But outside of that boring stuff, Ljubljana is really purty (see right).

The hostel/former prison where I did
not stay.
Whilst there I met two Slovenians at a Slovenia v. Albania soccer match party who introduced me to a Ljublana hotspot they claimed was the world's most famous hostel - Hostel Celica - on the grounds of a former Yugoslavian prison.  This area of the city was like a city in itself, with >10 bars, people who appeared to live in said bars, other squatters, artist workshops, etc.

I also made friends with an itinerant Australian (they seem to be everywhere here), with whom I travelled to my next destination: Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.  He hitch-hiked while I shelled out for the train, but I think it goes without saying that I won that race.

Although Zagreb is a lovely city with plenty of culture, history, Dalmatian chard, bargain beer, nice architecture, and Eastern Bloc architecture, I think I would have preferred a trip to the Croatian coast, which I hear is absolutely lovely.  Another downside of my trip to the city was my narrow, harrowing escape from a 200 kuna ($40) fine for black riding on the Zagreb tram system.  Not speaking a word of Croatian helped.      

13 February 2011

Greece is the Word

Birthplace of the  Modern Olympics.
Rocky-style workouts were sadly
forbidden by stadium edict.

Semesterferien (term break) is over and I have just returned from my trips to Croatia, Slovenia, and, my favorite, Greece.  Outside of the public restrooms - where a mysterious and malevolent injunction against flushing toilet paper down the commode leaves you with a rather unpleasant alternative - I found Greece to be a tremendously agreeable place.  In fact, I think February was the perfect time to visit, as the weather was warm enough to wade in the Aegean, but cool enough that the cafes did not necessarily double as Turkish baths.  Plus it was even possible to wander about the Acropolis without swimming through a sea of fanny-packed tourists with substandard walking skills.

Acropolis with the calorie-burning
Lycabettus Hill in the background.

During my stay in Athens I hiked up Lycabettus Hill, met with hunger-striking refugees, and ate about a kilo of feta - atop salads, in gyros, on crepes, and straight out of the package.  I enjoyed other culinary delights, including olives, ouzo, tyropita, and Mythos beer.  Although I highly recommend sampling all of these things, I caution that the thick Greek coffee requires an unusual amount of chewing, which makes sense as it is often all that the Greeks have for breakfast.  

I suspect that Greek coffee may be
responsible for the short stature of Greek men,
which was quite obvious from my
conspicuous perch at 1.93 meters.
I left Athens one day to visit Sounion, a remarkably beautiful cliffside that hosts the ruins of a temple to Poseidon that was once tagged by the English poet Lord Byron in a vandalistic fit of enthusiam.  Later that day I also got to sit in on college application interviews with two Greek-Americans aspiring to the class of 2015 thanks to my host and fellow Brown alum George.  Then, sadly, I had to leave Greece with just a jar of honey and a bottle of olive oil to remind me of my stay in Hellas.

Fortunately, the Athens metro workers held off their inevitable daily strike until after I had reached the airport.  The Greeks, it turns out, really like their strikes. 


04 February 2011


I have had the pleasure last weekend to attend the ball of the business academy where I teach in Waidhofen.  Austrian balls are similar to American proms, but with the following differences:

 Everybody waltzes.  To be more clear, the students waltz exactly once, during a sort of ceremonial display of choreographed Austrianness, then take off their white gloves and move on to a less ritualistic, but more overtly amorous type of dancing in the smokey club-type area.  Teachers and other hangers-on continue to waltz to the live band, regardless of the style or time signature of the music being played.  Being, in age, not quite a teacher and not quite a student, I engaged in both types of activities.

Kicking the evening off with
a waltz

Dinner is not served.  Students appear to enjoy a liquid dinner instead.

That alcohol is served is perhaps the biggest difference, especially considering the extremely draconian methods American principals have come up with to keep alcohol out of proms (breathlyzers, diploma-related threats, armed chaperones, etc.).  As a result of alcohol being served Austrian balls last until 3 or 4 am, while their American counterparts tend to fizzle out by 11, when students choose to stop dancing with whatever brave teachers are out on the dance floor and go to either the school-sponsored, snack-fueled bowling alley afterparty or someplace more conducive to drinking and embarrassing themselves. 

The Mittersnachteinlage,
which my students would
most likely not want on my blog,
but hopefully they don't read it
and thus won't find out.

Another notably difference is that the graduating class gets together at midnight to perform a lipsyncing/dancing extravaganza known as the Mitternachtseinlage.  Everybody gets together to watch the show and the students dance with considerably less shame than would American eighteen year-olds put in a similar position.  The midnight medley at another ball I attended included, to my delight, a recreation of the climactic scene from Dirty Dancing, which Austrians have a total thing for.

The ball was hosted in a very classy hotel and convention center type place overlooking the Ybbs River.  It hosted not one, not two, but four floors of balling, two dance floors, tables for people too shy or old to dance, and a lounge area called "New York, New York" that had remarkably little to do with New York.  Despite the overwhelming smokiness of the venue, it was, overall, a totally prima evening. 

Also today is the beginning of another vacation for me, semester break, so I'm headed to Athens this afternoon to meet a friend from Brown.  I may also check out Croatia, Slovenia, and other Balkan locations, but more on that later.  In any case, I will probably not blog anything for about a week and a half.  Bis dann!

01 February 2011

Very Austrian Things That I've Done So Far

Since arriving in September, I've...

-Waltzed to a live performance of the Baywatch Theme Song.  (The blatant lack of appropriate time signature does not deter Austrians from waltzing.)
Alpenhütte party atop nearby Prochenberg
-Enjoyed three-hour lunch breaks.
-Screamed at a stranger for failing to stand right, walk left on an U-Bahn escalator in Vienna.  I'm not normally this unfriendly, but I could not miss that train. 
-Hiked up a mountain, discovered an Alpenhütte (mountain hut) party, drank a beer, hiked back.
-Hiked a different mountain with Maggie, discovered a Gasthaus (guesthouse/inn), drank a beer, hiked back.  We also played a wooden glockenspiel on said mountain.
-Judged people for mentioning The Sound of Music.
-Demanded, with near immediate success, that a DJ play the #1 International Superhit Barbara Streisand.
-Bagged my own groceries every time.
-AND stayed in one cafe for a period of time so lengthy that I would have almost certainly been suspected of homelessness in the US.

28 January 2011


2009 Champions - the Spiked Punches,
I consider it a major strike of luck that one of the only team sports I'm even remotely capable of playing is also among the most popular here in Austria.  Since October I've been expanding the international profile of 2009 Brown University P.E. Low Division Intramural Volleyball Champions 'The Spiked Punches' (see right) by playing with my school's team almost every Wednesday.

The older players are mostly quite talented and an extremely high percentage of the students (in comparison to volleyball teams in American high schools, at least) take part.  Volleyball, in general, is taken much more seriously here than it is in America, where it's much more likely to be played one-handed by beer-holding old men in their backyards between a round of horseshoes and seconds at the grill.  In fact, the nearby town of Amstetten (population: 23,000) even has its own professional volleyball club - consisting of at least 25% unemployed American volleyball stars.  Other similar towns (or metropolises, depending on your point-of-view) also have professional teams that compete with each other and, somehow, make money out of the arrangement.   

But back in the small time racket, I've been enjoying our weekly practices despite embarrassing myself at times by grossly misunderstanding information, rules, and gender-specific instructions.  The local dialect, always difficult for me to understand, becomes even more difficult to understand when it's screamed by enthused and competitive sixteen year-olds on the court.
I have, however, learned some fun and useful volleyball vocabulary*:

Meine Schuld - my fault
Deine Schuld - your fault
Schlagen - to serve (to hit)
Aufspielen - to set
Netz - net
Wie steht's? - what's the score?
Out - out
In - in
Spike - spike
Block - block

English has, apparently, influenced the game's terminology abroad.

Although it`s been too cold for outdoor/beach volleyball for some time, I hear that my town has a 3x3 snow volleyball tournament planned for February.  More on that later...

*Note: German volleyball vocabulary is, in fact, only useful for playing volleyball in a German-speaking country.  For something actually useful, click here.

25 January 2011

No Matter Where You Go, Some People Dress Like Fools...

Schematic Diagram of a
Although America may be the place for misguided and foolish youth cultures, a bizarre minority specimen of Austrian teenager is worthy of comment.

They are called die Krocha* and their preferred habitat is the disco.  They are reminiscent in attitude of American "bros," especially because of their lust for clubbing and their taste for Ed Hardy wear (Keine Party ohne Ed Hardy, as they say). 

Three Krocha in their
natural environment
This resemblence to more familiar youth cultures does not extend to other aspects of their attire, many of which are distinctly European or, more accurately, "Eurotrash."  They favor white Adidas sneakers, extremely tight pants, and large key loops for wrapping around their right leg.  They sport finely manicured eyebrows, spray-on tans, and stiffly gelled hair, perhaps as protection from concussions received while dancing.  They also have an insatiable appetite for Palestinian checkered scarves (called Palästinensertuch in German), which they wear as mere accessories, with extreme indifference to potential political meaning.  

They have a language of their own and particularly enjoy the word Oida, which is rougly equivalent to "dude" or "man."  It is sometimes also used without context just to add some flavor to their almost certainly vacuous sentences.  Like popular American TV Chef Emeril Lagasse, they also like to use the word Bam frequently in order to demonstrate their extreme enthusiasm for another's enviable neon-colored baseball cap or impressive dance skills**.  The rest of their vocabulary is a mixture of Viennese (Wienerisch) and various migrant languages.

An urban Austrian phenomenon - I have encountered very few Krocha out here in the countryside and I don't have any as students.  According to German Wikipedia, only 1.7% of 11-29 year olds in Austria identify as Krocha, although I'm not sure how Wikipedia could have gotten this information and I doubt that Krocha is a checkable box in many surveys or censuses.  I've read reports that this style is fading into obscurity (thankfully, according to most accounts), but in my experience they remain common U-Bahn fixtures.  I have rarely seen them in daylight, which they seem to detest despite their remarkable tans.

*I think this word stems originally from the Wienerisch word for the Hochdeutsch hineinkrachen, which means "to encroach."  The word was Austria's second-place Word of the Year 2008, behind Lebensmensch.
**The "krochn" dance style goes best with music from the album krocha traxx vol. 1, available from Universal Music.

20 January 2011

Berlin - Highs and Lows

Scaffolding - a tourist's worst nightmare
Although Maggie and I enjoyed visiting Germany's capital and largest city, our trip was not without its disappointments.  To start with the "Berlinjustices":

-The Reichstag, Germany's parliament building, was closed due to threatened acts of terrorism scheduled for March (note that our trip took place in January).
-The Metro line to the Olympic Stadium was not in operation, hindering my latest compulsion - visiting every former site of the Olympic Summer Games.  Two down, twenty-two to go.
-The landmark Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche was, like practically all other sites I visit in Europe, covered in scaffolding. 

Spreewald Pickles - the Cold War's
tastiest symbol
But other places we visited were "Berlinincredible," including my favorite place we visited - the KaDeWe Department Store.  Other sites in Berlin (in fact, most other sites in Berlin) serve as stirring memorials of World War II, the Holocaust, the Cold War, and the painful division of Germany into East and West, but only KaDeWe has eight giant floors with nearly 400,000 items for sale!  The store itself  - Europe's second largest - was an amazing spectacle, even for non-shoppers.  In fact, the only thing that we bought there was an authentic, canned Spreewald Pickle.  It was the the only type of pickle available in East Germany under the GDR, so it's a damn good thing it's so delicious!

Der Ampelmann (crosswalk dude) - a cute
symbol of life in East Berlin, currently
being exploited by souvenir shops and
unemployable art students across the city.

The Spreewald Pickle is a good example of today's word of the day - Ostalgie.  A combination of the German words Ost (east) and Nostalgie (nostalgia), Ostalgie refers to the lingering affection for life in the East during the Cold War.  The most visible simple of this emotion is the Ampelmann - an adorable crosswalk symbol used in Berlin and other German cities behind the Iron Curtain.

19 January 2011

Sample Dialogue #4

In an electronics store in Amstetten, in German.  Mistake (and irony) realized after the fact.

Friendly Cashier: You're from Austria, are you?
Me: No I'm not.  I'm from America.  I'm on my way to Linz.
Friendly Cashier: Wow, your German is quite good.
Me: Thank you.
Friendly Cashier: Well, I hope you have a nice vacation here in Austria!
Me: You too!
Friendly Cashier: [silent retraction of compliment]

14 January 2011

The Budapest of Times

Rubbing his belly brings
good luck for dinner
The final stop on my winter holiday tour of Europe was Budapest - recently voted one of the 41 places to go in 2011 by the New York Times.  The number 41 seems arbitrary, but the summary of the city was spot on.  To summarize what we learned from our self-effacing tour guide Anna: 
One of the first stops on our tour was by the statue of a cheery, chubby policeman, whose bulging belly has been rubbed shiny by tourists wishing themselves good luck for their next meal.  The lawman's physique, Anna informed us, is typical of Hungarian men due the abundance of meat, lard, and paprika in the local cuisine.
We then moved on to Parliament - a beautiful neo-gothic building that looks remarkably similar to London's Westminster Palace.  The resemblence is no coincidence and in fact it was deliberately made a few inches longer than its more famous peer just to one-up English.  At this stop we learned about the workings of the Hungarian bureaucracy, whose employment rosters are more bloated than old Hungarian men.  Anna was not exaggerating, as every metro stop was staffed with 4-6 fairly indifferent controllers - one to check tickets, one to keep him company, and four to supervise.
Hungarian Parliament - Neo-Gothic Rip Off

We also visited St. Stephan's Basilica, an attractive church best known for hosting the severed hand of St. Stephan (his forearm and elbow are in Warsaw and Vienna, respectively).  Tourists can view the hand by just throwing half a euro in the severed-hand automat.  

Our final stop was a flea market in the city park, where homeless people on tarps sold stolen goods and collected refuse at an unbeatable price.  I was creeped out by many of the merchants - including the lady selling opened bags of breakfast cereals - but Maggie found a nice leather purse for 100 Forints (about 30 cents).  The flea market and the nearby Heroes' Square were overall quite representative of my impression of Hungary - half granduer, half filth, a touch of paprika and a real bargain.

11 January 2011

Mugs, Memories, and Munich

Maggie and I have returned to Waidhofen and my travels sadly are over.  Fortunately this means that I can devote more time to blogging.  Although I doubt I'll ever be able to describe all of the places I visited, I'll start with one of my favorites - Munich.

On a edutaining tour of the city, I learned that that everything in Munich is somehow related to beer consumption - from the famous Rathaus Glockenspiel (recently voted the second most overrated tourist attraction in Europe) to the city's oldest church (reconstructed after WWII with beer proceeds). Our tour guide also informed us of a beer-themed tour taking place that evening that promised to be less "edu" and more "taining."

Holding a Maß by the handle is only
appropriate for toasting.  In all other cases
it is taken as a sign of weakness.
At the beginning of the Munich beer tour I was very interested in learning more about Bavarian beer culture, although I must admit I became less and less diligent about collecting and retaining facts and even memories as we progressed from pub to pub.  One of the most interesting pieces of information that I did retain was the proper way to hold a giant one liter mug of beer, called a Maß (see right).  The handles attached to the mug are meant only to prevent finger-crushing collisions during a toast.  Outside of toasting, you're meant to hold these beers as you would a handle-less mug, with your hand directly on the glass.  Although this hand-to-glass contact might theoretically warm your beer, showing concern about your drink's temperature indicates to Bavarians that you are not drinking fast enough.   

This glorified pub crawl resulted in a number of great photos - some more compromising than others - on my mother's camera that I promise to post if she emails to me.

Another fact I retained from the beer tour is today's vocabulary offering - Reinheitsgebot.  It means "purity law" and it refers to a long-standing rule that all beer in Germany be made of only three ingredients - water, barley, and hops (and yeast, once it was discovered).  It is largely responsible for the lack of variety but abundance in quality of German beer, especially compared with the US.  Although it is no longer on the books due to whiny Dutch competitors, many German brewers still abide by it. Our beer guide informed us that this level of purity protects Bavarian beer consumers from hangovers - something that, through research, I have proven false.

01 January 2011

Ein Gutes Neues Jahr

After completing about two-thirds of my holiday travels without updating my blog, I became anxious that my readers would begin to lose interest and decided to post a partial update.  Right now I'm in a hostel in Hamburg resting from a long train ride that left Vienna at 6:30 am, just minutes after the ball dropped in New York.  Needless to say I'm rather proud of catching such a train, uncaffeinated, on the hangover holiday of the year.  

Despite having only about ninety minutes of sleep so far in 2011, I admit that I had an excellent Silvester - as Germans call New Years Eve.  Although I was sad to forego Dick Clark (or is it Ryan Seacrest?) and the annual Twilight Zone Marathon, I was happy to discover some new December 31 traditions with my girlfriend Maggie and a few of our friends from college.  Here are highlights from the last night's Vienna program (official and unofficial):

-Pouring molten lead into cold water to predict your 2011 fortune.  My glob formed itself roughly into the shape of a shoe.  Its meaning is open to interpretation.
-Hot punch
-Unsanctioned fireworks
New Years is a busy day for the purchase
of useless plastic trinkets
-Sadly, missing the Madonna cover show in Vienna's 1st District
-Buying lucky Austrian New Years totems: pigs, mushrooms, chimney sweeps, and clovers (seem  Irish...)
-Attempting to waltz to Strauss at midnight, failing due to lack of space and ability to waltz.

And the first vocabulary lesson of the New Year is einen guten Rutsch - a nice German New Years greeting that literally translates to wishing someone a "good slide."  I do not know the etymology of this phrase, but I suspect that it might relate to a champagne-related decrease in ability to walk (or waltz) properly.