A few weeks ago I was reading the blog of an expat living in Vienna (wait, is that what I am now?) in which the different stages of cultural adjustment theories were mentioned. That led me to the Wikipedia page for culture shock, which defines the stages as: Honeymoon, Negotiation, Adjustment and Mastery. I have also seen the Negotiation phase defined as the two distinct and more frightening phases of Crisis and Recovery but nevermind that for now. I am here to say that the Honeymoon phase is still in full effect and it has been wonderful.
The changes that have delighted me over the past three months have fallen into three categories: changes associated with living in a new country, Austria; changes associated with living in a city for the first time, which we never managed to do in the U.S.; and changes associated with that city being Vienna. For our first six weeks here, we lived in a small, picturesque town outside of Vienna where we could entirely focus on the first change, living in Austria, and life was (and continues to be!) beautiful there. I could walk down tree-lined streets to work by day, sit outside at a Heuriger and drink excellent wine for less than two dollars a glass by night, swim with the kids in a pristine public pool, take the train to neighboring towns and parks, go hiking and generally enjoy our family and life in a small town. It was late summer and full, green vineyards stretched in every direction. What more could you ask for?
We found our apartment in Vienna on August 14th, the first one we looked at, and it was love at first sight. I still can't believe that we live here, that we had such luck in finding the place, or that it's even possible for a place like this to exist within our price range. Dinka posted all the details of the place, with pictures, but there are two details that she left out that continue to astound me: 1) we have room for guests, and 2) we're paying less in rent than we were in Danbury, CT. The place is looking better with each week, as we fill it out with furniture, paint some walls and replace bare light bulbs with actual light fixtures. We'll be posting a full set of pictures of the finished apartment once everything is done, which should be some time between now and when we move out.
Since we moved in a month ago, the simultaneous changes of living in a city and that city being Vienna have been a daily source of wonder. Small surprises seem to be waiting around every corner, like the chocolates hiding in each day of an Advent calendar. When I get out of bed in the morning or look out the window from my desk, I see the tower of St. Leopold's, whose bells ring every fifteen minutes during the day and for extended periods at noon and before a Mass: tempus fugit, mememto mori. At 12:00 and 6:00 p.m. every day, our building spontaneously fills with wonderful kitchen smells, like your grandmother cooking a chicken soup or making a roast for Sunday lunch. The market down the street fills up every Friday and Saturday with farmers and food producers from all around, offering fresh and mostly locally grown fruits and vegetables, cheese, meats and wine. As fall arrived, all the local restaurants filled their windows with signs advertising the availability of venison and squash and my seasonal beverage of choice, Sturm, which probably deserves a post of its own. There's a hair salon down the street with a fire engine chair that keeps Nikola mesmerized and a stylist that was thoughtful enough to ask Veronika if she'd like a braid in her hair after it was cut (of course she would!). A trip to the bookstore last week felt more like a sightseeing tour than an errand, since it required me to get off the train in the park and walk on wide streets past beautiful and grand concert halls and buildings. Speaking of the train, the kids—especially Nikola—love to take it anywhere and everywhere we can and since we live so close to a station, we can do things like drop by a palace a few districts away after work on a Friday. And the parks! The Augarten is down the street, with its tree-lined paths and gardens, four playgrounds, and a kids swimming pool that awaits us for next summer. One subway stop away is Prater, which is kind of like tacking a small forest with thirty small playgrounds dispersed throughout it onto an amusement park. I could go on.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me has been discovering that I enjoy being around people. In our car-centered life in the U.S., I felt like I saw the minimum number of people possible each day. At home and work, I saw the same people, and in between, I was riding in a steel and glass bubble that prevented any incidental contact with other people. Living without a car here, I walk and take trains everywhere I need to go and there are always people around. This isn't to say that I have a lot more contact with people than before—I still mostly keep to myself, apart from occasionally struggling to provide someone directions or other help—but I find it nice to be out among people and to be surrounded by life. I have a much better sense of the people and the place I'm in because when I'm around other people, there are things that I can't help but to notice: what kinds of people are out and when, how people speak and interact with each other, how people carry themselves, etc. It's been a nice change for me and has enlarged my perspective by forcing me out of my own head for at least a little while every day.
All of this being said, I feel like we've barely had a chance to really experience our new home yet because we've been so busy with the details of moving and everyday life. Things finally seem to be settling down lately and just in time. The international film festival starts this week and we'll have to go to that. Next weekend we'll finally be getting our first vacation of the year in with a visit to a farm in Styria. The nip in the air and the diminishing daylight are a reminder that the Christkindlmarkts are not too far away. Plus the negotiation/crisis phase of cultural adjustment is just around the corner! It promises anger, frustration and anxiety, three things I can never have enough of in my life.
I also put together a photo album that I think tells the story of our first three months here fairly well. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have:October 17, 2010