Vienna is a beautiful city filled with exquisite buildings, powerful opera halls, sophisticated clothing and roaming Seattleites; stomping obliviously on every cultural norm they encounter.
If you’re planning a trip to Vienna any time soon, take these tips from Seattleites Tori Hartman and Tash H-Chavez, both of whom studied abroad there last spring.
1. Don’t smile at people. Smiling at random people in Vienna is like making kissy faces at people on the street as they walk by in Seattle. Public displays of emotion are just not the norm. You will get weird looks. People might think you have a hidden agenda. Passersby will studiously avoid making eye contact. H-Chavez says she still hasn’t totally recovered “I still get surprised when people smile at me [in Seattle].”
2. Be prepared for extreme changes in weather. The weather in Vienna might actually be more bipolar than Seattle’s.
“When we got [to Vienna] it was snowing and then it got really hot,” H-Chavez said. “It got to like 80 degrees, 90 degrees, 100 degrees,” she said. “When it comes to weather it was just all over the place.” Vienna has an Alpine climate which can account for extreme changes in weather. So pack layers and make sure to prepare for the unexpected!
3. Leave your North Face vest at home. I know you eat, sleep, jog, lounge around and go to class in your puffy vest that seems to go with every single outfit you have in your closet. But your vest is not Vienna appropriate. “I felt out of place wearing it there,” Hartman said. The Viennese dress much more conservatively than we do in Seattle. So substitute the vest for a nice pea coat or long sleeved jacket.
4. Don’t make small talk.
When you are at the register in Zielpunkt and your groceries are being rung up, don’t worry about making chitchat. Small talk is not common in Viennese culture, or in much of Europe. “I’d say in general [Viennese people] are less friendly than people in Seattle,” H-Chavez said. “But I mean if you can get to know them they’re so open,” she said.
5. Skip the drip
Yes, that is right. Drip coffee does not exist in most of the cafés in Vienna. Fancy coffee is served in a fancy glass brought to you on a fancy platter served by a fancy waitress wearing a fancy uniform. “In Vienna when you go into a café it’s like walking into a four star hotel,” H-Chavez said. “Some of the [coffee shops] have chandeliers.” In fact, Viennese cafés have a long history of being places of innovation where authors, artists and many intellectuals of society went for inspiration. So take your time and skip the drip.
6. Don’t wear yoga pants or leggings.
Seeing someone walk across the street wearing leggings and sneakers in Vienna would be like seeing someone wearing pajamas and slippers in Seattle. “Here I wear Nikes and leggings to class quite often,” Hartman said. “That would not have been acceptable for class in Vienna.” Viennese people tend to dress nicer than Seattleites no matter where they are going. If people can see every scratch, dimple, curve and crevice on your entire body; then your pants are too tight. So wear a nice pair of jeans and some nicer shoes.
7. Don’t tip (that much)
When you’re at La Tavolozza and you are finally done drinking, talking, drinking, talking, drinking, talking, eating, and drinking for three hours…do not feel obligated to tip the waiter or waitress.
The Viennese just don’t tip as much as Seattleites. Many restaurants include the tax and service charge in the bill. “It’s not really part of their culture,” Hartman said.
I know this is quite different since tips are expected for service in Seattle, but think of this as a blessing. Now if a burger cost $10 and all you have is $10 you can still eat dinner.
8. When you go to dinner plan to be out for at least three hours. In a Seattle restaurant; you might be served a drink first, then an appetizer, and them bam! All your food is piled on the plate; you eat, you tip, and you leave. Long meals are an hour and short meals are 30 minutes. But in Vienna going out to a restaurant like Salm Bräu Klosterbrauerei (on the grounds of Belvedere) with friends or family, is more about the company and less about the food. “I think it is definitely a huge cultural difference for just Europe in general,” Hartman said. “They focus on spending time with your meal and not rushing through your food,” she said.
9. Kiss, don’t hug.
Viennese people don’t greet friends and family with hugs, they kiss each other on each check. It’s a common greeting and tradition in Vienna and an excellent way to weed out the Americans in the crowd if they are not already obvious. “It’s the same thing when [Seattleites] see people kissing people on the cheek, we’re just kind of like ‘oh, that’s different,’ H-Chavez said. “When [Seattleites] greet each other we do hugs,” she said. So if your friend is all ‘hugs!’ when you see her at a Café Mozart, avoid eye contact and walk away.
10. Become a football fan.
When someone asks you if you enjoy a good football game don’t say, ‘hell yes Russell Wilson is my favorite QB!’ In Vienna (and Europe), football is soccer. So become a fan. And prepare yourself for enthusiastic European football fanatics. You think the 12th man knows crazy and out of control? You haven’t seen anything until you are sitting between two Viennese football fans at a local sports bar. So make sure to wear the jersey of one of the local teams and mimic all the fans around you. When the guy beside you jumps up and starts yelling at the television be sure to follow and maybe knock something off the table. If the bartenders don’t tell you to settle down, then you are not fitting in.
This story has been updated since its original publication