Sunday, February 26, 2006

It's the little things (II)

Another collection of differences (from an American perspective) we've noted between here and back home:
At the bank there are 2 ATM type machines- one gives you cash but no receipt, and the other prints out your statements with all your activity since the last time you printed one. So, if you want a receipt of your cash transaction you have to go to a second machine afterwards. Or if you want to know how much money you have before you take out cash, it's also a two-step process. Speaking of cash, that's pretty much all people use around here. It's especially different at bars where in the USA people typically start tabs with a credit card. People just pay with cash a lot, or many stores accept Bankomat cards (you use your ATM card like a debit card). I'm sure for big purchases places accept credit cards, but the difference is the every-day expenditures are all in cash.
People wait for the proper signal at intersections and crosswalks even if there are NO CARS COMING! Sometimes I feel guilty if I just go ahead, but what's the point in standing there when there's nothing in sight?!

Sandwiches are a different concept than what we're used to in America. Consistent with the accuracy of the German language, each configuration has a specific name here, where in the USA we just lump everything into the category of sandwich. There is Gefuelltesbrot which can have any combination of ingredients, but they are all diced. And there are open-faced options such as Belegtes Brot and a smaller version called Brotchen. They have this thing called Kaesebrot, but I'm sorry, a roll with a piece of cheese just does not count as a sandwich! What about mayo or veggies or meat?
Here's a picture of Brotchen:
They do have sandwiches here. But, what we wonder sometimes is exactly how long have those sandwiches been sitting there? We never see anyone making them nor order one, yet there are always plenty of pre-made sandwiches sitting in the case at the shops and vendors. When you do order something that looks a lot like an American sandwich, it has no mayo and is very dry :(
When you order a beer in a bar you just ask for a big one (ein grosses Bier, 0.5 liter) or small one (ein kleines Bier, 0.3 liter). What you get depends on which brand that particular bar has chosen to serve. To our American sensibilities, there's very little difference between all the beers. They're all yellow and of really good quality. Some places do offer Guinness or a Weissbier, but the Maerzen is ubiquitous. It's not like in the USA where you have a plethora of brands and a wide range of quality (including bad ones). The standard brands around here are: Goesser, Puntigamer, and Murauer. When you say cheers (prost), it is tradition that you look each person directly in the eyes. We have found it quite frustrating and downright rude the way people behave "in line" at stores here. Different cultures have different sensibilities about these things, but it's just baffling to our American values because we where raised to respect the idea of waiting for our turn. To an American- if you get there first, you'll be served first. Not here. You could be waiting for 10 minutes to order something at the bakery and some Austrian will push (yes, it's literally a contact sport) up ahead of you and before you know it they're continuing on with their day without a thought and you're left standing there fuming and wondering what just happened. Here are two illustrations of how "a line" works:
Unless you are breathing down the neck of the person in front of you, you may not technically be waiting in line and someone will cut you:
Some places have no formal line and it's a free-for-all as to who gets served first:

Here are two brands/packaging we found amusing: Doesn't it make you want to buy these sausages? Well, yes actually! We were so amused, we just had to buy them. David thinks they're pretty tasty too. Appropriate name for TP, no? And notice how the name is in English. There definitely are bits of English here and there, somehow things are more hip or desirable when they're in English.
At the grocery store you bag your own groceries and you buy the bags each time, or save them. These ones have lasted me about 5 months! I just keep one in my purse at all times just in case I end up buying something. Think of all the plastic bags that are thrown away every day in the USA, this is a great system!
When people introduce themselves in formal situations here they simply say their last name. When we opened our bank account that's how the gentleman who helped introduced himself. But then David introduced himself first as "David Sussillo," so then I simply said "Robin." ooops!
Traditionally people had titles that denoted their place in society, especially to distinguish royalty. These were very important, and not to use them was considered an insult. People use less of them now (especially the royal ones), but they are still around. For example, if a woman is married to a doctor, her title would be "Frau Doktor" even though she's not actually a doctor. And student's don't call their teachers Mr./Ms. so-and-so, they say "Frau/Herr Professor." Since everything in the German language is gender-specific, naturally the titles are too. It can get confusing however in this modern age when a woman holds a position that was traditionally held by a man.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


We've been watching the Olympic coverage in both German and English over here (Austrian and British stations). What is most apparent to our American-TV-viewing eyes is the lack of those sappy "personal interest" stories about the athletes. We haven't had to sit through interruptions in the action of how the athlete's brother donated the left side of his brain to his sibling so he/she could compete (camera pans to brother cheering/crying in the crowd). It's rather refreshing to just watch the sports. The European programs are as raw and un-edited as the American programs are edited and over-produced. It's simply the action with commentary and only minimal graphics and very few commercials.
Austria's Gold Medalist in the men's Big Ski Jump, Thomas Morgenstern (photo: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach Feb 20, 2006)
Austria's Gold Medalist in the women's Downhill and women's Super-G, Michaela Dorfmeister (photo: Reuters/Max Rossai Feb 20, 2006)

We have also been learning some new words by watching the coverage in German. For example:

  • die Geschwindigkeit (speed)
  • die Mannschaft (team)
  • das Rodeln (luge)
  • die Auseinandersetzung (controversy)
  • der Eiskunstlauf (figure skating)
  • die Sammlung (accumulation)
  • die Konkurrenz (competition)
  • hochwertige (premium, high-quality)
  • das Doping (doping)

Monday, February 20, 2006

Mozart Everything

Maybe if one drinks this, one has the potential to become a genius?

This year is the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birthday (Jan 27 1756). Lots of places in Austria are trying to capitalize on their most famous son. Well, not in Styria (the provence that Graz is in). I don't blame them. I guess since there's no trademark on the name Mozart, there's Mozart everything... Mozart chocolate, Mozart liquor, Mozart biscuits, Mozart salami, Mozart ham, Mozart milkshakes, oh yes, and then there's his music in case you forgot what the name is really synonymous with (and that is worth celebrating). We have not yet been to Salzburg (where he was born), but I'm sure Mozart fever is rampant there. Styria has opted to be an escape from the Mozart frenzy for locals and tourists alike.
Well, for the most part. There is a Mozart section in our local grocery store:
Here's one of the anti-Mozart billboards that are popping up around town:

You can check out the "no Mozart zone" website here, but it's in German.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


I took some of the photos I've shot around Graz and played with b&w and color in Photoshop. I think gives the images more emotion. Some of them look haunting, mysterious, or humorous, and the compositions become more interresting.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


Compositions weathered onto the surface of Graz

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


We returned to St. Jacob last weekend with Ingrid and Alois. The weather was great, so we went skiing both days.
Robin had a private lesson for 1 hour before courageously hitting the slopes for the first time in 16 years! St. Jacob was a good hill to learn on because it wasn't too steep or too crowded... next stop, the Alps!

David liked to "rest" sometimes on his way down.

* A big thank-you to Ingrid for all the photos!!!