Cafés and Pubs

Vienna is well known for its traditional “cafe culture”, where people while away the hours with a newspaper and a melange, and are served by life-long waiters in waistcoats. The truth is, such traditional establishments are closing with a depressing frequency, and there are new self-service competitors opening all the time. You can even spot a Starbucks or two while walking around the first district.

Similar to the situation of the pub in British life, it’s past its glory days, but if you know where to look there are still a few gems around and die-hard supporters who keep them going.

Viennese cafes have more parallels to British pubs, too. It’s the place where you go to chat, pass the time, drink alcohol and read the paper. The people who turn up to a Wetherspoons at 10am in London to start their day will gravitate towards a cafe here. The requirements of a traditional Wiener Café:

  • Table service
  • Cake
  • Tiny tables
  • Ability to purchase an egg and a roll as “breakfast”
  • Newspapers on wooden holders
  • Coffee served on a silver tray with a glass of water

The pubs in Vienna (almost always called “Irish Pubs”) are mainly frequented by English- speaking migrants. Ironically, due to the relaxed attitude of Austrians to smoking, they are very often filled with smoke, which makes them feel different from any pub in Ireland or the UK in the past 10 years.

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Carpet

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London is carpeted. Vienna is not.

The difference is evident right from the airport. London Stansted has 100 metres of carpet to welcome travellers, which is more than I have seen in 3 years of living in Vienna.

Vienna has “Teppiche” (rugs) in some buildings, but very few have “Teppichboden” (literally “rug floors” – carpets). Wood, tiles, lino are all more popular.

Carpet in a home bathroom is non-existent in Vienna, and regarded as an unfathomable and irrational eccentricity.

The Mushroom Man

Behind this door sits a man, employed by the City of Vienna, who will look at your mushrooms.

“Pilzberatung” means mushroom advice. If you go mushroom picking and are not completely sure what you’ve collected and if it’s something poisonous or something tasty, then find this door in Naschmarkt, ring the bell, and the mushroom advisor will be more than happy to tell you.

A complementary service, courtesy of the City of Vienna.

Good-for-you Films

Deciding what film to watch is one of the greatest First World Problems. So much choice, so little time! Netflix, Amazon, et al. make the decision almost impossible with their unending catalogues (not to mention the box sets), and even cinemas are showing more features than ever before.

Watching trailers can help by offering previews of the full films, but sometimes they’re unrepresentative or give away too much of the plot. Some films, either through word-of-mouth or from professional critics, are highlighted as “must see”, but do you trust their taste? Maybe the government can help?

In Austria, it tries to, sort of.

Austria has national film ratings. These aren’t ratings for what age you must be to watch a film (which are here generally more relaxed than in the UK – for example, the strictest rating given is “16 or above”), but about the quality of the film. Films receive grades of either “particularly valuable”, “valuable”, “worth seeing” or no rating.

These ratings (2017’s are available here) can be seen written next to films in the windows of some cinemas and on some movie websites. I don’t think many people pay attention to them, but apparently they have another reason for existing beyond simply advising the movie-goer.

I read online that the ratings can have tax implications, with cinemas that show mostly “valuable” films getting tax breaks. This leads to the smaller, independent cinemas having an advantage over the larger chains.

That fact that the government feels it should get involved in the subjective business of film reviews is a surprising feature of Austria to me!

Double Duvets

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Most double beds in Vienna, in hotels and private accommodation, have 2 single duvets on them.

When I first discovered this seemly innocuous fact it blew apart my understanding of how partners sleep around the world. Until that day, I had assumed that people the world over share a duvet when sleeping together. All my impressions from TV shows and films backed up my thinking. It was such a shared experience, that any comedian telling a joke about their partner “stealing the duvet in the night” is guaranteed to elicit a knowing chuckle from the audience.

But it turns out my thinking was too Anglo-centric! There are countries, and it appears Austria is one of them, where the age-old predicament of nocturnal blanket theft is avoided by providing each person with their own duvet. Why didn’t we think of it before? It makes so much sense!

And yet, it feels wrong.

Weekend Word

Zeitlupe means slow motion in German. Literally, it translates as a time (Zeit) magnifying glass (Lupe), which is a concept I love, and I think is a great way to describe the slowed-down movement of objects seen in slow mo.

“Slow motion” is a bit boring and literal in comparison, isn’t it?

Cash

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People in Vienna always carry cash. Lots of it. Notes and coins are needed to pay in a lot of establishments as they don’t take cards, and if they do take them they’re sometimes a bit moody about it. People (particularly elderly people) here seem to simply trust cash more, and want to be able to hold it. The largest banknote in the UK is £50 (between €60 and €70), so to see someone pay for their shopping with a €500 note was quite shocking to me. However, it didn’t even elicit a “Have you got anything smaller?” from the cashier.

London has gotten used to cards. “CASH ONLY” is a sign which I sometimes see in other parts of the UK, but in London you can go days just using a card.  While living there I came to see cash as a nuisance, and got annoyed at the change I would receive when paying with it. It weighed my pockets down and I never knew what to do with it.

Moving to Vienna only exacerbated this problem. Coins piled up from every coffee, every loaf of bread, every beer. As a partial solution, I now sometimes go shopping taking only my pile of coins with me. I force myself to buy produce totaling the €8.57 I have amassed in 1¢ – 50¢ pieces.

A few more mundane observations about payments:

  • Credit cards are very commonly used in London, whereas not so many people seem to use them in Vienna.
  • Of the credit cards used here, most are Mastercard, Visa is not so common.
  • A lot of cash machines in Vienna only accept Maestro debit cards, not Visa debit.