12 culture shocks expats get when moving to Austria

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12 culture shocks that expats get when first moving to Austria

Here are 12 culture shocks that expats have when moving here. Internationals living in Vienna: these will help you understand Austria a little better. As for the Austrians reading this – these are the things that most obviously make your country unique.


1. It’s 2 kisses on the cheeks, not a hug

If you enjoy observing awkward physical exchanges, just position yourself (with popcorn, if possible) in front of an expat greeting a native in Austria.  The native will be giving a kiss on each cheek while the expat will be going in for a FULL hug, complete with upper body contact and arms around the neck.  The combination of the two is never pretty.

2. The local’s insider elevator button code system

@ Unsplash

It’s not uncommon to find expats crying a little about culture shocks in an Austrian elevator after they’ve spent half an hour trying to figure out which floor they’re on, which floor they’ve come from, and/or which floor they need to go to (if they even can remember after all this emotional stress).

For example, we recently found an expat in an elevator with the following buttons: E-M-1-2-D. The expat was shaking their head bewilderedly and muttering, “whatwhywhere 2?” We’re not sure how the story ended.  When we left, every button in the elevator was pushed and the expat was staring off into the abyss.


3. The toilet culture

@ Vienna Würstelstand

Nothing will test an expat’s personal strength like trying to use the bathroom in Austria. Because the toilets in Austria double as display shelves for your poop, with most of them designed with a shelf, which is there so you can literally check out your…business…before flushing it down.

4. It’s bedtime burritos, not bedtime lasagne

@ Unsplash

Many people from abroad are often surprised by the bedding situation in Austria.  We’re talking about the 2 blankets for 2 people deal. If there are, for example, 2 people sharing one bed, there will be 2 separate blankets – one for each person to wrap themselves in. You know, like burritos.

Some expats are used to everyone in the bed being covered by a communal top sheet and one big duvet/ blanket. It’s more like a lasagne set up. At first, we thought this 2 seperate blanket thing did nothing for the hanky panky, intimacy of the fun bedtime activities, but with time, we realised it actually works quite well.

5. The dining dogs

This has to be one of the coolest things in Austria – that dogs can literally go anywhere! Our furry friends are welcome in most places in this country – inside purses, on the subway, at the office, at the airport, and most definitely in restaurants and cafés. Lots of restaurants even have doggy bowls that supply water for the pouches. Don’t be surprised, expats, if a furry fella pokes his head out from under the table next to yours to say cheers. And one more thing – how are all the dogs in Austria so well behaved?!!


6. To “invite” somebody means you’re paying

@ Vienna Würstelstand

Austrians might be a little surprised to have an expat they barely know ‘invite’ them to their birthday get-together. The expat might be even more surprised when the Austrian leaves them a bill for the 5 beers they drank at the party.  We’re here to translate. Dear expat, when you say the words, “I’ll invite you,” the Austrian will think you mean that you’re “treating them” or that it’s your shout. That’s just how they say it here.

7. The rules of crossing the road

@ Vienna Würstelstand

You might catch expats darting across the street at a red light when there are no cars present while the Austrians dutifully wait for green permission. Expats, expect a few dirty looks if you disobey the red man. They take their road rules seriously in Austria. Wait for the green man, and live as the locals do.


8. Save the small talk

Austrians are super friendly people, however, you’ve got to get to know them first. What we mean by this is that the familiar small talk like, ‘how you doing?’ or ‘how’s your day been?’ that you’ll get in supermarkets, and cafés etc. back home isn’t a thing here. Strangers are strangers, and social etiquette calls for more reserved social exchanges in public between two people that don’t know each other. We feel like such small talk is considered unnecessary here. Plus, even many Austrians will tell you that customer service is notably absent in most situations when you’d expect it.


9. Get those shoes off!

@ Vienna Würstelstand

It’s not a big deal, but it kind of is. When you enter somebody’s home, don’t be surprised if you are politely handed a pair of Hausschuhe to swap your shoes for during your visit. We actually love this custom as it means you’re wearing comfy slippers instead of shoes while hanging out at somebody’s home, but it did confuse us at first. However, it makes sense when you think about it – it keeps the muck from the street outside, and it makes the visitor feel nice and homey.


10. Carry cash, or be prepared to do the ATM walk of shame

@ Unsplash

Many restaurants and cafés in Austria still only allow cash payment. We repeat, carry cash, or be prepared to walk the streets while muttering obscenities under your breath as you look for a cash machine. We’ve all been there.


11. Beware and be prepared for the cashier when visiting the supermarket

On your marks, get set, go! – this is exactly how we feel as soon as the person before us at the checkout finishes paying, and it’s our turn. Keeping up with the cashiers in Austria’s supermarkets is no easy task. There should literally be a cashier olympics held in Austria. They have to be some of the most efficient and quickest workers in the country. So when your time comes at the checkout, don’t mess about – get your ass to the packing area and start throwing your groceries into your bags, and be sure to keep up. Start recording your PB (personal best) at the cashier – it makes it more fun.


12. The whole naked in public thing

@ Vienna Würstelstand

This one is not just a cultural shock the first time you encounter it, but rather a cultural slap in the gob. We remember our first time – it had been in a sauna and nobody had told us about the strict naked policy in saunas.

So Austrians are more free and comfortable with their bodies than in many other countries, especially when compared to the puritanical Anglo-Saxon world. So when you’re biking along the Donauinsel and a random naked guy appears from the bushes, just act cool.

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