I’ve been back for about a couple of weeks now, and with barely a day in between from when I returned, I’ve ended back up in a city, that is, New York City. Though I live in a small suburb of New Jersey, tightly nestled in the quiet woods, I’ve come back to the wonderful craziness of NYC to return to my internship from last summer: WQXR classical radio. Though I definitely could have used the rejuvenation time out in the country, I wanted to get in as much time as possible back at the station before I head back to school. Going from city to city like this, however, has really highlighted for me the contrasts between European cities and American cities, and I just wanted to mention some of the most noticeable things:
1) Accessibility of the arts. This is a HUGE one for me, and something I immediately noticed while I was over in Vienna. During my time abroad, the absolute BEST thing was the ease of access to the arts. Show up to the opera or the Philharmonic an hour before and you’ve got a 3-5 euro ticket (granted, likely standing room but who’s complaining for that price?) for a world class musical experience. Here in New York City, concerts and related things are not quite that accessible– maybe you can enter a lottery for tickets, or get some kind of student rush if you’re motivated to wake up at ungodly hours, but it’s simply not the same. Art should be accessible to all, and this is certainly something I will miss about Vienna.
2) Food portion sizes. God bless America. Enough said.
3) Tap water. This is something many people, including myself, have probably encountered before but it’s still worth a mention: European restaurants don’t believe in free tap water. Either you buy a bottle of mineral water or you don’t. If you ask for tap water, you’ll likely receive a less than friendly look.
4) Hidden history in every brick and stone in Vienna. It seemed as if everywhere we went, be it a museum or a modern day post office, everything had a fascinating history. Palaces on every corner and places where monumental events took place were always within view, casually integrated into the modern culture. We simply don’t have as long of a history in which time such wonders could have been cultivated.
5) Unreturned smiles. I love to smile at strangers. Maybe that sounds weird, but I know it brightens my day when strangers (well, at least the not so creepy sort) smile at me. This is not a thing in Austria. When I would smile at a stranger, they would look me up and down worriedly and then glance away. This behavior is of course nothing personal, as I learned, but rather simply part of the cultural discourse. Strangers don’t smile at strangers unless, well, they’re the creepy sort.
6) A strong sense of collectivism and responsibility for the whole, rather than every person for his or herself. Here in the good ol’ US of A, we foster an individualist society, meaning that from a young age we are taught to tune in to our own inner voice, and to set personal goals. “Be the best you that you can be!” or “Follow your dreams” are common phrases embedded in our minds from the time that we’re little. It is due to this mindset that our society is an every person for themselves kind of place. If a stranger decides to sit in an empty seat once a show has started, what’s it got to do with you? Or perhaps a stranger decides to ignore a “keep off the grass” sign– it’s most certainly not YOUR business. However, this is not so in Vienna. In my time there, I quickly learned that many locals feel it is their personal responsibility to call you out on your wrongs– they must look out for the whole. So if you take it upon yourself to claim that empty seat in the Staatsoper at intermission, or to cut across that lawn to get to the gardens a bit faster, be prepared to receive a rough (but hopefully good intentioned) scolding.
I’m sure I could go on about some more of the differences between cultures (a side effect of being a psychology major with a strong focus in cross-cultural studies), but ultimately, I found that there was one huge similarity, and this I find to be the most important takeaway: the universality of music. I’ve been on music making adventures throughout the world and it’s always the same– to music makers and music lovers, it is language that we all speak, affecting our senses in profound ways and bringing us together across other boundaries. I hope to return to Vienna very soon to communicate in this language once again.
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<div><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Hannah Nacheman is a rising senior at Bryn Mawr College studying Music, with concentrations in voice and harp, and Psychology. When she's not happily nestled away in a practice room or at rehearsal, she enjoys dancing, taking photographs, and adventuring in nature. Hannah is excited to share her wanderings through the eye of her camera and her abundance of zany musings.</span></div>