There is a lot to love about Vienna--the architecture, the history, the music--and the list could go on for miles. However, that doesn't mean there isn't anything to dislike, and I am not above laying everything out on the proverbial table.
- The smoking. This has been the most difficult adjustment I've had to make this semester, and I doubt I will ever be okay with it. Smoking is more culturally acceptable here in Europe than in the US; anyone can smoke almost anywhere, including in restaurants and outside of schools. You certainly don't see the anti-smoking campaigns plastered over billboards and on bumper stickers like you do in America--you'd be appalled by how many people hold a cigarette in one hand and a baby in the other. A baby, brand spanking new, five inches from smoke! As a non-smoker, I just don't get it, and I feel like there is nowhere safe to breathe.
- The street sellers. Not even in Manhattan have I seen so many people roaming the streets and trying to sell things. From the newspaper vendors outside of supermarkets to the tickets salesmen around the Staatsoper (who are also big fans of catcalling, no surprise there), everyone seems to want something from me. Those who stand quietly with their wares in hand are only visually perturbing, but anyone daring enough to wave something in my face should prepare for a stream of rather rude English.
- The beggars. Similar to the street sellers, there are a lot of people, in every part of Vienna, begging for money. Some are more forward than others, which I don't appreciate, but I'm troubled more by the awkward feeling of not donating--thereby establishing my class priviledge--than the people themselves. I just have a naturally guilty conscience.
- The lack of personal space. A few weeks ago, one of my professors was talking about how Austrians are generally more comfortable being in close proximity to each other than Americans are. My goodness, is she right. I notice this most on public transportation--people are just fine packing themselves into the subway/tram/bus like sardines, practically standing right on top of one another. I've always said that I like to have a five-foot space bubble around me; let's just say that I don't exactly get it here. This is one reason, as I've come to the conclusion, that I don't think I could live in a big city. I need my breathing room.
- The meat. Hear me out on this one. I have been a vegetarian, and a pretty strict one at that, for nearly four years now. And, as everyone knows, Austrian and German cuisine is pretty meaty. In Vienna, finding vegetarian, and even vegan, options hasn't been a problem. The problem is that I want to eat the meat. I decided before I left that I would relax the vegetarian thing for the semester, and I have, but I didn't think I'd enjoy it as much as I have. There have been many a night after a concert where I find myself at a street food stand with a Käsekrainer in hand (that's the "hotdog" filled with cheese, smothered in mustard, and stuffed into a hollowed-out baguette). Those things are a religious experience.
- The tourists. Okay, so I might fit into this category. Maybe I'm a quasi-tourist, or a pseudo-resident. Anyway, there a ton of tourists here, from everywhere. This goes back to the personal space issue; the tourist groups take up room, walk slowly, and stop right in front of you to take photos. Coming from a very tourist-attracting town, you'd think I have a high tourist-tolerance. Unfortunately, I don't (and neither does anyone I know). I even dislike being one.
- The public displays of affection. I admit, this is really just me being a bitter old lady. Alongside getting cozy with strangers on the U-Bahn, Austrians seems much more comfortable being affectionate with each other in public. Which, incidentally, often takes place on public transport (who knew it was so romantic?). The kisses, cuddles, and hand-holding that Americans scoff at are no big deal here--so, good for those involved, I guess.
- The lack of time. I have always been one of those students with their nose constantly in a book, pen in hand and writing away. I will always put my work before anything else in life, period. Considering just how much work I have to do here, I'm not left with a lot of time to explore the city, or travel, or do anything not somehow related to school. Every time I do try to relax, I feel like I'm stealing a moment to do something I shouldn't be doing--it's as if I am having an affair with myself, after which I will promptly return to real life, school life. This has nothing to do with Vienna itself, just my circumstances in it.
- The German. No, I don't actually dislike German; in fact, I really love it. But I love English more. I have realized here that my identity as a literature student, creative writer, and person with an intimate knowledge of English is too strong to sacrifice. I hate not knowing what people are saying. I hate being the non-native speaker. I hate how people just know I don't know how to speak their language. It hurts my pride. I don't think I could live in a country where English isn't the primary language--it is simply a part of me, absolutely inseparable from my sense of self. English is what I do best. And I miss it.
- The fact that I can't think of anything else. I had to think for a while of things I don't like about Vienna, and that tenth thing still eludes me. Is that something to dislike: that there isn't enough to dislike?
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<p>Kelsie is a junior at Skidmore College, double majoring English and music. Her academic interests include creative nonfiction, piano performance, German language, and feminist theory. When she isn't in class or at the library, Kelsie spends her time playing piano, writing personal essays, knitting, or just curling up with a good book and a few cats. While studying in Vienna, Kelsie hopes to improve her German and piano skills, as well as immerse herself in Viennese culture.</p>