It has been over 9 months since we moved to the Austrian capital, Vienna. Previously, we were happy tourists who enjoyed the glitz and glamour of this imperial, yet modern city. But is there such a thing as a perfect city? If we’re talking about the quality of life, Vienna is as best as it can get. The Austrian capital has bagged the top spot on the list of the ‘most livable cities in the world for the third time in the past 5 years in the Global Livability Index 2022, an annual report by The Economist Intelligence Unit.
However, the last 8 months were anything but easy in a myriad of aspects. Culture shocks, harsh lessons, and the devil in the details had much to shape our early experiences as ex-pats in Vienna. While we definitely wished that someone had informed us and stressed certain lessons about this city earlier, there is no learning like the one with experience.
Passing on our share of wisdom, acquired after some intense experiences, below are our topics and learnings about expat life in Vienna.
MA35 is a Viennese deity
MA35 or the Magistrate’s Office in Vienna is pretty much the Viennese deity that decides everything, from if you can get the resident permit or park your car on the roadside, legally. It’s hard to love the folks here, but if you do things the Viennese way (checkpoints below), they can at least be kind and cooperative with you.
Things work differently in different districts
The city of Vienna is divided into 23 Bezirks (districts) and each district has a separate governance system, making the rules more relaxed or stringent in certain districts.
Things work differently in Vienna and in the rest of Austria
Obviously, there is a difference in governance, but the government of Vienna has stricter rules compared to the rest of the country. Case in point wearing masks in public transport in November 2022 when most of the European countries and the rest of Austria as well, have moved on.
Importance of documentation
Devil is in the details. Paperwork and perfect documentation are key to getting anything done in Vienna- residence permits, utility payment plans, home rentals, etc. Documenting every single bill and contract will make your life a lot easier than you can imagine.
The Appointment Culture
In a formal set-up or an informal one, you got to take an appointment and fix a time to meet. People function both professionally and personally based on an appointment culture. Don’t forget to show up on time!
Amazon does not work in Vienna
This one’s the shocker for online shoppers like us. There is NO Amazon Austria. Every time you need something from Amazon, Amazon DE (Germany) serves you, obviously resulting in a long wait time for orders and added delivery fees.
People in Vienna are happy to head shopping at 6 in the morning, whilst spending the evenings after work with family. Typically, shops and supermarkets start opening around 6 am in Vienna and shut by 9 pm latest. Is that how work-life balance works in utopian lands? Everything is shut on Sundays
In India, offices are shut on Sundays which means that people head out by themselves and with their families to shop, eat and enjoy. Shutting shop on Sunday is considered bad business sense. But in Vienna, everything, LITERALLY EVERY SHOP, AND STORE IS SHUT ON SUNDAYS. Even the supermarkets.
Fun fact: Irrespective of the timings, every shop has to shut at 6 pm on Saturdays in Vienna. Most offices end early on Fridays (around 2 pm) so that you can do your household chores between the half day and Saturday.
It takes a long time to get a handyman to do your job
In Vienna, labour is neither cheap nor in abundance. For a 5-minute fixing job for my bathroom door, I had to wait over 7 weeks and multiple emails to the house management company to get a handyman to do the job. Didn’t I mention the appointment culture before?
Viennese German is the only official language
Vienna may be an international city, but when bureaucracy knocks on the doors only Viennese German can help you. Right from all your forms to your contracts, Viennese German is the official language for all documentation involving all public and most private institutions.
Vienna has the best public transport
The public transport system in Vienna is so good and so well connected across the city, you’ll not need a car to make more emissions. The public transport city is a highly reliable option with both connectivity and timing to navigate around the city!
Everything that is not in Vienna is outside
It could be cheap food, Primark, or a certain spirit of life! (duly note the sarcasm here)
The Rise of Veganism
If you are a vegan or trying to be one, Vienna is ready for you. The city has an increasing number of modern vegan eateries. Your cravings for plant-based food or mock meats will be met with countless options- both in restaurants and in supermarkets.
Gone are the days when European summers were pleasant and nice. Global warming is real and Vienna is no different when it comes to experiencing heat waves in summer. The max I experienced this year was a scorching 37 degrees celsius.
Travelling to Budapest is cheaper to shop
This one is for real. In many instances, travelling to Budapest can be a lot cheaper alternative to going shopping. Check the Regiojet tickets available for as low as Eur 7 for a 2-hour train journey to the neighbouring, Hungarian capital. Cost-wise, Budapest will save that hole in your pocket!
Mango Lassi Dominance
Still not sure if it’s a Vienna thing or an NRI thing, but Mango Lassi is ‘the drink’ in all Indian restaurants and many other restaurants too. And it’s not just to decorate the menu, too many people order it for real.
Lack of Street Food Options
Street food in Vienna typically means Sausage- grilled and served with sauces, bread, beers, and fries. Sausages/Bratwurst/Kaiserkranner is the street food in Vienna. I am not sure there’s more street food that’s typically Austrian that’s up for grabs. Other street food options include falafels, döner kebap, sandwiches, rolls, and pizza slices from the many middle-eastern stalls across the city. As an Indian, as a Mumbaikar, MISSING STREET FOOD in Vienna is a very real and depressive feeling that hits you once too often.
Vienna is not all bad. But the city can sure be crazy with the variety of whims and demands that dictate your life in the city. At the same time, it is an absolute winner when it comes to the quality of life, lifestyle, and range of services and opportunities offered in the city. Most days can be weird dealing with the locals and their fancies. Some are likely to bombard you with their schnell German, leaving you absolutely clueless. Some days are like the warm summer days in the park, or like cosy winter evenings in the traditional Viennese coffee houses. Vienna has so much to offer to make this city feel like home and yet lacks much for each one of us to truly feel at home. And while life can get a little hard, the quicker you learn the Viennese ways, the easier it is to adapt and evolve. As ex-pats, maybe, we’ll never truly be authentic Austrians. But Vienna has its ways of spoiling you silly!