Stranger in a Strange Land

It’s very odd sometimes being a non-Catholic in a very Catholic country. Of course, we lived in three different officially Catholic Latin American countries, plus the nominally Catholic Czech Republic, so we are not completely unfamiliar with the rituals. But nowhere has the liturgical calendar been taken so seriously as it is here in Austria.

Austrians like their pomp and ceremony more than anywhere else where have ever lived, in or out of the religious context. Just look at the famous ball season! Or anything the Hapsburgs ever built or decorated. They are a wealthy people with a long history of showing off, and that’s a fact. Over-the-top Baroque churches and exceptionally formal and elaborate Catholic ceremonies are part of that larger picture. The persistence of religious holidays in the secular/business calendar–far more so than anywhere else we have lived–is another sign of the church’s well-funded power in Austria.

So, anyway, as usual, I had no idea that today was a Catholic holiday (Corpus Christi, for the similarly clueless). I went out for my morning walk and ran smack into a large procession, complete with an army of priests, monks, nuns, altar boys, some kind of Catholic Boy Scout troop, and an apparently valuable object under a fancy canopy surrounded by smoking incense. It could have been the 18th century except that there were loudspeakers to broadcast the chanting. And of course, the Scouts and cops looked pretty modern. (Note the military presence in the parade and file under Top Ten Things You Would Never See Back Home.)

So, that was an interesting surprise to start the day. But, on the way home I saw that I wouldn’t be grocery shopping later as planned, because the grocery store was closed. Because everything closes for everything here. I know, I know, not my country, but it’s pretty effing annoying and I definitely won’t miss it.


  1. You’ll appreciate this, given your blog today. I went to the petrol station at 16:40 to fill the tank and wash the car in preparation for our holiday departure tomorrow. Though there was no one waiting for a car wash, I was refused a ticket because, “The car wash is preparing to close at 17:00.” This would be unbelievable anywhere but here.

    As for the grocery closings, I, too, have complained about them and have heard from Viennese commenters all possible rationales for the Sunday and holiday shutdowns. Basically there is neither rhyme nor reason for the madness. It is what it is here.


    • Haha, yes, I believe that! I have checked and in Warsaw the big stores are all open on Sunday, just like they were in Prague. It will give us a lot more flexibility on weekends. And hey, we might actually spend some money on the local economy.


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