How to Feel At Home in Vienna, While Attending German Classes (Part 1)
Have you found yourself in a new city in the middle of Europe, spending a fraction of your day in class learning German, yet still feel as though you are not in-tune with the culture around you? Read how to practice your German, while getting a feel of the city and its vibe.
Why Vienna, You Ask?
Vienna has been ranked as the best city to live worldwide for the 10th time(!) in terms of quality of life. The reasons Vienna is valued so highly lie mainly in good social and economic conditions for the citizens, as well as the city’s eminence in the sector of health, education, housing and the environment. Reliable public transport, low crime rate, rich cultural scene and a vast selection of leisure activities all contribute to an overall great city experience. It does not hurt that it is so.pretty.everywhere.you.look either!
Now you, as hundreds of others, are living in Vienna as of recently and are going through a trying and tiring process of integrating linguistically and culturally in a new country with its own set of rules, social and otherwise. Whether you are European, African, American or Asian is not particularly relevant in this case, because for the matter at hand no one is immune. Learning the language holds great importance and value in your journey of settling in and feeling at home. It is however no secret that it is a difficult undertaking – one which can nevertheless become less of a burden with the use of meaningful and personalized daily or weekly routines. The easiest way to not feel like an outsider 24/7 is, surprise-suprise, to not act like one. It is a fake-it-till-you-make-it kind of situation.
Tips for Life Outside German Classes
So let’s get right into newcomer remedies for immersing oneself in the Viennese lifestyle, from maximizing the benefits of time spent in public transport to delving into Vienna’s coffee culture and cultural institutions.
Public Transport Is Your Friend
Public transport will be your new best friend, no questions asked. It is everywhere, ready to take you to your next destination, but this is not all it offers. Besides taking you from point A to point B, it also allows a unique first-hand experience of the order of things in Vienna – it is your first gateway to cultural Do’s and Don’ts as well as a pretty cool means of peeping through the keyhole of Viennese society.
Rule No.1 of public transport etiquette is essentially to not talk. No, seriously. An individual’s private sphere in Vienna is sacred and that includes sounds, too. Being loud on the phone is a big no-no, often resulting in angry side-glances from everyone in your vicinity and rarely but possibly, also a comment about how inappropriate your behavior is. So, if you want to facetime your dad, who is super excited to see you/talk to you and also wants to bring into frame everyone who is around including the family pet, the tram / bus / ubahn is not the place to do it! If you are travelling with a friend, remember to keep your voice volume down, if you talk at all.
Time spent in public transport is nonetheless a God-given gift towards your goal. You are expected to stay quiet, which gives you an amazing opportunity for the development of many helpful routines in your endeavor of blending and fitting in. Besides doing homework for INNES when taking public transport, people-watching is a great pastime activity for two reasons. First, it allows you to observe how people behave and what activities are acceptable and encouraged in such spaces. Second, it offers the time and the appropriate conditions to mimic said behaviors which are culturally valuable.
The main actions that take place in public transport, as you will experience yourself, are
1. talking in a very low, non-intrusive pitch with the person sitting next
2. being fully immersed on a smartphone screen
3. having headphones in and zoning out
5. looking out the window
Let’s break each point down.
1) Even though Vienna is a multicultural capital, it is highly likely that people around you will be conversing in German. Now is the time to eavesdrop! Try to concentrate on people talking because this gives you the chance to familiarize yourself with the language. As you progress with German language classes, you will understand more of these snippets on public transport. At first you may recognize only a few words or phrases but as the time passes you will be able to track your progress by the amount of meaning you are able to deduce. In the first month of learning German, you may only make out 1-10% of the words spoken, but fast forward to six months later and you will know all about the cat of the old granny sitting across you, who apparently only eats the kibbles exclusively sold at Spar. Exciting, we know!
2) If being pulled in via your smartphone screen by popular social media and therefore losing track of time and place is no foreign concept to you, hurray for you because now you can still do that but in a way that will benefit you instead of only stressing you out due to your mental comparisons with people’s lives online. Instead of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, invest your time in language applications online (such as Duolingo) that will improve your German in entertaining ways.
Reading the news from online sources is also a good use of your smartphone. For beginners, we would suggest to read Vienna’s news in English so that at least you stay updated with the daily happenings in the city. If you feel confident, give Austrian news sources a go.
3) When the headphones go in, the world goes out, we all know that. Listening to some of your favorite music and imagining you lead in a video clip is definitely a nice touch to your experience in public transport, but what about improving your language skills? Our first suggestion would be to search online for music in German, in a genre you already enjoy. Search Youtube, for example, for indie German/Austrian music – That’s how we discovered Annenmaykantereit five years ago, true story! If you are feeling adventurous, maybe tune in on a local radio station and see what comes up.
Music is not your thing? Give podcasts a go. Podcasts are very popular in Vienna and there are hundreds of different styles and topics you can choose from. They are also a cool conversation starter with locals!
And if you love a good story, download your favorite audiobook in German – already knowing the plot of the book will definitely give you the advantage of concentrating on the language aspect.
4) Reading is an integral part of daily life in Vienna. Books are read by individuals of all ages, even read aloud to toddlers, which may be the only acceptable form of relatively high volume vocal expression in the Viennese transportation system. Books are amazing gateways to knowledge and that includes language as well. Reading children’s books in the beginning of your language journey will be very helpful in gaining new vocabulary and understanding proper sentence structure due to the simplicity of the texts and the plot. If you are not comfortable with reading Oh, wie schön ist Panama in public, you can try it on an e-reader! As your language skills improve, try getting into more advanced books. If you are not in the mood for more German texts after sitting in a classroom for half a day, you could read English translations of books written by Austrian authors with stories grounded in Vienna. This will give you an insight of the city and the more you know, the closer you will feel to its undercurrent.
5) Looking out the window until you reach your destination is definitely useful in familiarizing with your surroundings as well as learning to orientate yourself in the new city. In days where you have not much going on, hop on the public transportation that is operating overground, a tram or a bus, and ride it to the end of the line while looking out. This is definitely a cool way to get to know the city.
Coffee and Culture? Ja, Bitte!
See how quickly time flies when you are having fun? You have successfully arrived at your destination, most likely the language school or your place of residence, and spent time productively doing that. Do you still feel like you are missing out? You are probably right. Vienna is a lively city but only if you know where to look.
Usually during daytime, people spend time in coffeeshops not solely for the purpose of caffeinating themselves, but also because it is a crucial element of Viennese culture, and it has been for centuries. Instead of confining yourself in four walls at home to do your homework, venture out to the city’s hundreds of coffeehouses on a mission to find the best roast or discover the coolest places to do homework and drink coffee, one Bezirk at a time. If you are looking for a typically Viennese, smokey, old-school cafe, a cheap, discreet and cozy coffeeshop, or a hipster place in the 7th district whose barista has a PhD in coffee making (allegedly), it doesn’t really matter because Vienna offers it all. If you can learn the irregular and transitive verbs while indulging in the city’s coffee culture in the meantime, why not?
Besides coffee, nothing screams more Vienna than the opera, the theatre and the dozens of gorgeous museums scattered around the city. All these activities will give you a better sense of place while offering you wonderful, culturally rich experiences. The museums and the opera (Super Insider Tip: Sometimes there are opera tickets sold for as little as 4(!) Euro) are priceless entryways into the Viennese psyche and do not particularly require advanced German skills. Theatre, on the other hand, demands a more engaged audience and so maybe it is best to wait until your comprehension level of German is high enough for theatre’s fast pace. All of these cultural outings can be enjoyed alone or with the company of others, and our suggestion would be to try them all, both ways.
Overview of Useful Tips for Life in Vienna
Suddenly finding yourself alone in a foreign environment is never a painless experience – it is however a wonderful opportunity to grow as a person, learn more about yourself and extend your horizon.
Managing to feel comfortable and at home takes time and effort but there is a long list of activities and habits that have the potential to alleviate the stress of the newcomer, one only needs to give it a go even if unsure or uncomfortable at first. Hopefully you now have an idea on how to efficiently spend your time on public transport, plus a few more destinations other than the language school and your apartment.
While in Vienna, make sure to take full advantage of attending German language classes at INNES. There you have the opportunity to meet every day with other individuals who find themselves in the exact same position as you do, which is in itself a rare opportunity for mingling with people from all over the world, practicing your German and experiencing life in Vienna as a newcomer. They, as you, could use a friend to go for study sessions at coffeehouses, spend time at gorgeous museums, enjoy the opera or theater.
Our challenge to you for the following days is threefold: follow our public transport tips, do homework at a coffeehouse and spend an afternoon at a museum of your choice or go to the opera if you find tickets. We will be eagerly waiting for your comments on how it went! If you are hungry for more, stay tuned for How To Feel At Home in Vienna, While Attending German Classes (Part Two)!
Daphne Demetriou, MA