11 Tips For Living In, Studying In Or Touring Vienna
So I seem to be writing at a pace of about one blog a month now. That works I guess.
I want everyone to come visit my adopted city. I love OKC, my hometown, but I love Vienna just as much, and I love to show it off (that’s an open invitation to visit, by the way). The cafes, the parks, the music, the food – all of it together makes me extremely proud of and in love with this city every day. Living in Europe – even getting to visit Europe – is definitely a privilege that I am constantly grateful for.
However, if you are going to visit – or live in – this lovely city, here’s a couple of tips you should know about first. They are not necessarily imperatives, but they do make being here an easier and more enriching experience.
1. Stand on the Right
This should really be covered in Europe 101, or Intro To Major Cities. Yet it’s amazing how many people come to an escalator and plant themselves directly in front of an oncoming hoard of rushed commuters, oblivious to the fact that everyone going their speed – AKA the speed of the escalator – is standing on the right to allow others with more important things to do pass by. There’s even signs, in case you can’t comprehend context clues.
2. Learn to Like Coffee
It would be a tragedy to come to Vienna, the city most known for its coffeehouse culture out of all other European cities, and not be able to properly appreciate the experience of sipping a Melange in a 100-year old cafe frequented by Freud, or cooling down with a properly-made Viennese Eiskaffee on a warm, sunny patio. It’s quintessential Vienna, and I know very few Viennese who will say no to morning coffee, an afternoon Kaffeepause or a cup to go down with dessert after dinner. If you don’t like it black, that’s fine, as even the most famous Viennese drink – the Melange – is an espresso with milk foam. No one will judge you – start with an espresso with whipped cream (Schlagobers) and milk until you can manage the Kleiner Brauner (literally, “Small Brown One”, just a shot of espresso).
3. Be Quiet on Public Transportation
Maybe I should put this number one, as this is the top thing we see tourists (read: Americans) fail to do, almost to a rule. Again, this goes back to context clues. You get on a subway, and no one is speaking, unless in low voices to their immediate neighbor? Usually that would be a sign that you should do the same, especially if you’re a foreigner and don’t want to call attention to yourself. In Vienna especially, more so than some other European cities, most people are fairly quiet on the U-Bahn (subway), save for two glaring omissions: 1. Small, undisciplined children, and 2. Large, undisciplined teenagers. You should see the way everyone gives the death stare to a group of high schoolers basically yelling at each other from adjacent seats. You do not want to be looked at that way. So please, do not add to the stereotype of Americans. Please be quiet.
4. Learn About the City-Bike Program
I realize public bike-share programs are becoming more and more popular across North America and Europe, so Vienna’s is not necessarily unique, but it is exceptionally good. It costs nothing, there are bike stations no more than a couple of blocks away from each other all throughout the inner districts, and the bikes are good quality. We have our own new bikes, but if we’re going downtown, I’d much rather use the City Bikes and drop them off at another bike share station then have to find a place to lock up our bikes and then worry about them getting stolen. It’s only €1 to sign up, and then you’re good to go. And Vienna’s bike paths are everywhere and good quality – not quite a Copenhagen or Amsterdam, but close.
5. Stay Out of the Bike Paths
Speaking of bike paths, stay out of them. Seriously, this is a problem. For some reason tons of pedestrians, especially tourists, tend to just amble along bike paths instead of the pedestrian paths right next to them, even though both are clearly marked – one with a large bike symbol, one with a large person symbol. I’ve seen people get yelled at for straying over the line, and I’ve almost hit one or two unsuspecting Fußgangers myself.
6. Learn A Few Phrases
Seriously, people appreciate it, even if you can’t go much beyond “Hello”. If you just launch into English without even attempting German, you’re going to have a bad time. Here’s a couple of important ones to get you by:
Grüss Gott! – Hello! (Literally, Greet God)
Danke schön! – Thank you!
Auf wiedersehen! or Tchüss! – Goodbye!
Zahlen, bitte. – I’d like to pay, please.
Ich möchte… – I’d like….
Ich möchte einen Affen. – I’d like a monkey.
Bringen Sie mir einen Affen. – Bring me a monkey.
Nicht dieser Affe, sondern die anderen. – Not this monkey, but the other one.
Those should about do it.
7. How to Tip
This is very important, as it’s different than in the US, and – I think – much better/easier. Since waiters and waitresses are actually paid normal hourly wages, they don’t rely on tips for most of their income. This means you tip much less than in the US, around 10%. Although, you don’t have to sit there and try to figure out how much 10% actually is, as usually just rounding up to the next Euro or 2 is sufficient.
So, for example, say my meal costs €8.30. I would just hand my waiter a €10 note and say “zehn” (10), letting him know I want to pay 10 so he doesn’t have to give me any change. Or, say it cost €20.50 – giving €21 is probably too little, but €25 is too much. I’d give him €25 and say, “drei-und-zwanzig” (23), telling him that I want to pay €23, so he’ll give me €2 back. That’s it. Just tell them how much you want to pay, and make it only 1-3 Euros higher than the bill. Of course, this helps to learn the German numbers, but you can use the same system in English if you just don’t know them. And, naturally, this system is only if you are paying with cash, which brings us to:
8. Use Cash
Bring an ATM or credit card for one purpose only: to get cash out (and maybe to pay for your hotel room). Unlike the US, everyone is accustomed to using cash here, and if you try to use a card all the time, you’re going to run into problems, from held up lines to some restaurants that don’t even accept cards (and then you’re really stuck). It’s really quite simple, and you can always get more if you need it. Also, I think it’s kind of funny how much of a cash-focused society it is over here, when their bank card technology is actually years ahead of the States’ (research Chip-And-Pin technology – that’s what we’ve got).
9. Make Sure to Validate
Vienna’s public transport system is one of the best in the world, linking a substantial subway network with lines of trams and buses snaking their way throughout every nook of the city. It’s possible to get absolutely anywhere without a car, and the best part is perhaps that you don’t have to put in a token, swipe a card or stamp a ticket every time you use it. In fact, there are no turnstiles at all, just some validation machines set off to the side for those who need it, like for a single-trip ticket, or for the first time you’re using your pass. But for us, who have year passes, we don’t have to get anything out at all; we simply walk onto any subway or tram at any time. It makes the experience even more hassle-free.
You see, Vienna has basically an honor system. You are expected to have the proper ticket and use it the proper way. Since nothing is stopping someone from just walking on at any time, you would think that would lead to a bunch of “Schwarzfahrers” (“Black Riders”, as they’re awesomely known). However, the city makes up any negligible income lost to Black Riders by sending out undercover controllers, who wait until the train has closed its doors and left to make themselves known and start asking for tickets. Then you’re stuck. Caught without a ticket – or a properly validated one – and you’re fined upwards of €200. This is why it’s important to validate the first time you use your day pass, week pass, whatever. After the first time, you can forget about it. But it’s easy to forget the first time. We had some friends visit us last year who didn’t know to validate, and after being in the city half an hour were caught and had to pay. It was not a fun time.
10. Avoid the Guys Dressed-Up Like Mozart
Yes, Vienna has some beggars, but they’re hard to find. Yes, it has street performers, and they’re all pretty much universally good, this being a music-focused city and all (with the exception of this guy). But the main type of person asking for money in the Inner District is a 20 or 30-year-old man dressed up like Mozart, trying to sell you tickets to what sounds like a traditional classical concert and is actually a couple of student performers playing for you in a cramped room filled with folding chairs (trust me). Avoid them like the plague (which hit Vienna in 1679, killing 79,000 people, and now there’s a large monument to the dead in the middle of one of the main shopping streets. History is fun!)
11. Don’t Wear Shirts Like These
Seriously, just don’t. This applies to within the US as well.