You can forget how to ride a bike…

Servus and Grüß dich to all my friends, fellow Swansea students, teachers and German students out there!

I’m Chloe, and I’ve just spent the last 4 months living in Linz, Austria as part of my language year abroad at Swansea University (if you’ve never heard of Linz, I hadn’t either before I moved here! It’s the third biggest city in Austria, behind Vienna and Salzburg, and also happens to be the city where Hitler lived for most of his childhood). I’ve absolutely LOVED the last 4 months and can’t believe I’m only here for another month or so before moving to Paris to get practising mon français!

Before I moved to Austria, we had various training and information sessions preparing us for our leap into the great unknown! We were prepped for the culture shock, ready to tackle the inevitable language barrier, but what I wasn’t expecting were some of the more subtle cultural differences between my home in Austria and my home in the UK.

I arrived on a warm summers’ day in September and headed straight to a local lake in Linz with my new friends for a few hours of relaxing. One of the first things I noticed when I got there was that there were actually people swimming in the lake! Outside! With no wetsuits on! I couldn’t believe it! Maybe I’m a bit of a wimp, but even the idea of swimming outside in Wales made me feel cold. My Austrian friends had other ideas, so after much begging and pleading I slipped on my bathers and sceptically tiptoed into the lake after them. Surprisingly, not as cold as I expected. Even more surprising to me was the number of people joining us in the lake, most of whom were swimming lengths back and forth. And not just a few brave young soldiers like us, but parents and grandparents too! Maybe equally foreign (and really cool!) to me was the fact that all the ladies wore bikinis, regardless of age, shape or size, and seemed totally happy and confident doing so. And no one batted an eyelid at any of them. Yep – I could get used to living here!

That was probably one of my healthiest days ever (I’m not exactly known for my enthusiasm for sport…) Not only did we swim in the lake, I actually (attempted to!) ride a bike there, something I would never have done in my former life (aka as a student in the UK). I say “attempted to” because try as I might, I never could seem to quite get the hang of steering and pedalling at the same time…I bumped down the payment and into a parked car, though thankfully the only marks it left were on me. Turns out you can forget how to ride a bike. It also turns out that people in Austria mostly rely on their Fahrrad or öffentliche Verkehrsmittel such as the efficient Straßenbahn to get around, rather than with their Auto…talk about green!

The ultra modern and super efficient Straßenbahn.
(There’s also an U-Bahn which looks the same but travels underground)

Fast forward a few weeks and I’m in my local Supermarkt, Hofer (same family as Aldi and Lidl) trying to find some paracetamol to ease a headache (still convinced that was down to trying to think auf Deutsch all the time!) with no luck. In the end, I plucked up the courage and asked a Verkäuferin (in my best and thoroughly rehearsed German) where I could find the paracetamol. With a confused and slightly amused expression, she gave me directions to the nearest Apotheke. It turns out you can’t buy over the counter drugs in a Supermarkt here…the Apotheke is your best bet for minor ailments and injuries. Who knew?!

A local Apotheke

However, one thing you can easily find in a Supermarkt, or even a corner shop here is an abundance of fruit juices, squeezed from any fruit you can possibly imagine. Even more of a novelty is the orange squeezing machine, producing (very!) freshly squeezed orange juice.

 The abundant selection of juices in my local shop          

               One of those orange juice making machines…

definitely been drinking more of this stuff since being here!

Fast forward another few weeks when my Mum came to visit me for a few days (yay, English!) and I’m trying to think of fun things for us to do and see while she’s here. Apart from all the usual Vienna sights and experiences (and a bit of shopping), I had the genius idea of taking her to a spa here, having never been to one myself. I picked up a brochure, looked through some of the websites and was all ready to go, until one of my friends asked if I knew that the vast majority of spas in Austria were nudist spas, and that it was forbidden to wear your bathers. Needless to say, I changed my mind on taking meine Mutti there pretty quickly!

First impressions: Austrians generally seem to lead a slightly healthier lifestyle than we do, opting for a bike ride, public transport rather than driving, having a much greater selection of fruit juices to choose from and munching dried apple slices rather than chocolate at a movie night (maybe that’s just my super healthy friends!), but that all goes out the window at the annual Weihnachtsmarkt, when hundreds of oozy, cheese laden Raclette Brot are handed out each day. 8 bites (yep, I counted) of warm cheesy goodness!

Raclette cheese being melted before it’s slathered on warm bread…yum!

Maybe the only way (that I’ve noticed so far!) that the Austrians seem to be slightly unhealthier than us Brits is the number of smokers here, and not just teenagers either. Smoking here seems to be fairly common in teenage boys and older men particularly, with Tabaco shops easily accessible in the main train station.

One of the less healthy parts of Austrian culture…the easily accessible Tobacco shop at the city’s main train station.

Well friends, this is goodbye, Auf Wiedersehen and Pfiat Eng from me for now, but keep an eye out for my next few posts! In the meantime, why don’t you find a partner and practise asking them if they like playing sport, what they play and how often and invite them to play sport with you?

Tschüss!

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