On a month’s self-funded R&R and enjoying it! I am reminded once again of some things I love about the States. It may have been a mistake to come home, as a matter of fact. We are supposed to be bidding out next time, but now I want to settle down again so bad I can almost taste it. I must be getting old…
People are nice
OK, I spend most of my time in Virginia and points south. So, that’s my perspective on America. But, in this part of the country, as well as most others, the default is clearly to be friendly and pleasant unless there is some good reason not to be.
The Viennese are usually very polite, but they are not terribly friendly. I’m not knocking it, but there is a difference. Being polite is a reactive sort of thing. It is reacting in a proscribed way to other people’s actions. There is an underlying structure to these interactions. Being friendly is proactive and usually, impulsive. These are not adjectives you would normally apply to the Viennese. Ever.
Strangers talk to each other
This is not unheard of in Vienna, although it usually involves two or more people complaining about something together. For example, a bus that is two minutes late, or a checkout clerk who is not performing with blinding speed and efficiency.
In the States, on the other hand, it it perfectly normal to ask a stranger where she got her cute purse. In the few days since I’ve been back, I’ve had conversations with total strangers about everything from food, to shoes, to how my daughter is going to get a job with a history degree (in the checkout line at the CVS in Charlottesville). At one restaurant at the Biltmore, before we even sat down, a guy at the neighboring table told us “Y’all have got to order the goat cheese thing. It is AWESOME.”
In Vienna, I often feel like I am walking around in a glass bubble, isolated to a great degree from the people around me. I realize that if I spoke fluent German, or were from New York City, I probably wouldn’t feel this way. But I don’t, and I’m not, and it gets old. I need a break every now and then. Go ahead. Ask me where I got my purse. I won’t bite.
Crazy is normal
Again, my experience is mostly in the South, which could explain a lot 🙂 But we do tolerate eccentrics well. Loopy homeless people, drunks, crazy cat ladies–they are all just part of the scenery. We actually seem to like them–look at all the reality TV shows with oddball characters, from Pawn Stars to Duck Dynasty. Are we laughing at them, or with them? A little of both, I think. If we aren’t actually like these folks, you can bet we all have some peculiar friends or relatives who are. And we love them anyway.
Memorial Day in Nashville? 85 degrees and sunny. Memorial Day in Vienna? 50 degrees and rainy–or so I hear.
There just really isn’t anything else I need to say about that.
One of the first things you see after landing at Dulles are water fountains. Believe it or not, these exist almost nowhere else in the world!
In Europe, you are expected to pay at least a couple of bucks for a tiny bottle of water. On a Sunday in Vienna, this can be a real problem because just about all retail is shut down. And you are walking around a lot, and sometimes it even gets hot, and you get thirsty and there is NO FREAKIN’ WATER anywhere. Even the little tabaks (like mini 7-11s) are closed. There are no drink vending machines. Even at restaurants, you will pay for bottled water unless you specifically ask for tap water to be served. And you can’t just walk up to a restaurant and ask for a bottle of water to carry away, noooooo…..
Free (or almost free) water available practically everywhere: this is a wonderful and under-appreciated American custom!
OMG, the food
I loves me a good plate of wurstl and potatoes, but not every day of the week. Even in “flyover country” you can get great Mexican, Thai, Lebanese,Vietnamese or whatever other kind of food you want. If there is any city in America with no immigrant-run restaurants I haven’t seen it. Just show me the nearest strip mall and I will show you how to eat.
Good food pops up even when you aren’t expecting it. I was helping my brother paint his house the other day, and a Salvadoran neighbor brought us over plates of carne asada and fixin’s for lunch. There are at least two things in that one sentence that would never happen in Vienna 🙂