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Vienna, Day 3: Polite vs. Friendly

September 17th, 2017 · No Comments · Austria, tourism, Travel, Vienna

Living in France, one comes to appreciate the daily niceties, at least in the country’s small towns.

It is considered declasse’, bordering on overtly rude, to pass someone — anyone — in the street without saying hello.

The encounter can be with young or old or snarky teen, and still social conventions call for a hearty “bonjour!”

And if you are introduced to that person, you must immediately announce enchante’! (which literally means “enchanted” but stands for “nice to meet you”).

And if you subsequently meet up with a person to whom you already have been introduced, you are pretty much obliged to do the three (in the south) bisous (air kisses). Left, right, left.

In the Slavic/Magyar/German world we have dwelt in for nearly two weeks … Can we maybe get a nod of recognition that we exist?

Social niceties are harder to come by in the Czech Republic, Hungary or Austria.

I am pretty sure it doesn’t mean people are less kind than in France (or Spain or Italy), but outward expressions of simple social formulas are less common north of the Alps.

Vienna has been particularly aloof, at least outwardly.

Pretty much no one in Vienna has acknowledged these two tourists from the west.

Not even when entering a restaurant, where customers are allowed to sit without waiting to be seated — which takes the social aspect of dining straight to the “what will you have?” part of the evening.

We also have found that eye contract is a rare thing, especially in Vienna.

The other day, just at dusk, we passed by three people who had just pulled up in a car. One was parking the car, one was giving advice and the third was on the curb looking at us … without the slightest acknowledgement we were there.

As we were 10 feet away, and then eight feet away, then passing by … We had eye contact aplenty, but it seemed, oh, hostile. And not a word. Not a smile. Not even a nod.

Do we look like tourists, and therefore fall outside of whatever social constructs the Viennese have? Not from the neighborhood? Not from the country? Perhaps likely to ask something in a foreign language. Is it some combination of that?

Also, I can sorta get it, the “just ignoring” thing.

We must concede people have been correct in their dealings. Polite, yes, in interactions. Just not friendly.

Nothing overtly rude, mind … well, once or twice. The waiter who said, “Let me guess, you want the wienerschnitzel; 99 percent of tourists want the wienerschnitzel.”

On the whole, there have been thank yous and little bows, and a couple of Viennese cops rolled down the window to their cruiser, right there at Saint Stephen’s cathedral, to allow us to ask, in bad German, for directions to a movie theater. And they gave us directions.

So, really, is it fair to expect more?

If we think about it, how many people really mean “bonjour” or “buenos dias”? Are the people chirping “bonjour!” sincere about it? All the time? Half the time? Some of the time?

Or is it a little lie, most of the time? And doesn’t it make us complicit to a social falsehood? Which the locals, in this part of central Europe, do not feel obliged to be a party to? Are they, perhaps, being more honest?

Hard to tell. People who know me may be saying, “He’s not exactly Mr. Personality himself.”

Anyway, it seems to come down to this:

In the south of Europe, we’re all in this together — even if we don’t really mean it much of the time.

In central Europe, we may all be in this together, but we are not going to admit it. Not just walking by on the street.




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