The soundtrack has changed too — the constant background of footsteps and commuter traffic is now silence punctuated with distant booms of explosives blasting snow from mountain-tops.
The shift has been dramatic, fun, and terrifying. It took a week for me to go from hoping I didn’t meet anyone on the stairwell to our flat in case they barked German at me, to picking up a few words, saying hello to neighbours, and doing my best to fit in by cramming German and learning to love schnitzel and goulash.
This is not a holiday. We are selling our house in the UK and have signed a rental lease in Austria for three years. I count myself very lucky to be able to attempt such an endeavour, and looking out of the window still feels like a dream. If moving to another country on a whim is a mid-life crisis of sorts, then I am fine with it.
Some things you should know about living in Austria:
- Wine is cheaper than orange juice. It is yet to be determined if this is a boon or a pathway to ruin.
- No-one seems to care how English we are. We feel welcome here. Upon registering ourselves in the village (Austrians love forms), I apologised for my bad German (in German), and was met with, “You are a champion!” I have chosen this to mean, “Your German sure sucks now, but good on you for trying,” and not “You are a champion among idiots.” Our landlord’s English is only slightly better than my German but he, too, was welcoming. Our first conversation proceeded like something out of a primary school language class or a Two Ronnies sketch: “You like eggs?” he says. “Yes, I like eggs,” I say. “Good! I have chickens. You will have eggs.”
- They know how to build houses here. The sun warms the flat for half the day, then it stays hot enough that we don’t need to heat it even with a metre of snow outside. In disbelief, we turned the heating off and we’re sat inside wearing t-shirts in winter. You’d think all houses would work this way.
- Public services seem to work pretty well but I am still getting the hang of the post office. “How long to deliver this legal document to the UK urgently?” I ask them. “We cannot say,” they say. “You cannot say?” I repeat. “Yes. We cannot say.” I press them for more only to hear, “You must come back tomorrow. We must phone Vienna. Vienna is closed.”
- It is beautiful here. And I mean every-view-a-postcard-or-viral-instagram-post-or-whatever-people-do-instead-of-postcards-now beautiful.
I can’t yet hope to write anything meaningful about being transplanted to a foreign land, so for now I’d love for you to read “Sell Out”, a short story in four parts by Simon Rich. It’s about a man who moves from Slupsk in Poland to New York to chase a better life, only to fall into a pickle machine while rat-catching and wake up 100 years later perfectly preserved: