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This Is For Everyone - Issue #2

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On new beginnings and being a stranger in a foreign land.
 
January 24 · Issue #2 · View online
This Is For Everyone
On new beginnings and being a stranger in a foreign land.

Earlier in January I moved with my partner from the UK to Austria. Our view changed from the muted shades of a Victorian model village — a view we’ve always felt was beautiful in its own way, even with its parked cars and grim Northern skies…
The streets of Saltaire, West Yorkshire.
…to a 360 degree panorama of blue skies and snow-capped peaks:
The view from a small town near Innsbruck, Austria.
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:
Sell Out: Part One | The New Yorker
This double-detachment — a man separated by culture and by time — brings a frank perspective and some beautiful lessons for modern life, and it’s especially relevant to aliens who may find themselves starting afresh. It is long, but it is funny and brilliant and better than social media or Netflix. I hope you can make time to read it if the story is new to you. I have read it every year since it was published in 2013, and I enjoy it every time. It has an opening sentence and second paragraph that show you are in safe hands, and the accompanying illustrations are wacky and fun.
From This Is For Everyone
I’m trying to write more and not be so precious about it, in part for personal exploration but also because, “every artist has thousands of bad drawings in them and the only way to get rid of them is to draw them out” (Chuck Jones). You may see me publish a few things that are less-heavily edited and perhaps more eclectic in their subject matter.
Last weekend I published just such a piece on my experience switching to the Colemak keyboard layout, a shift I undertook last year in recognition of the fact I spend so much time typing that I may as well try to do it well. My conclusion was that switching layout is largely pointless for most, but you may like to try it anyway for the sheer madness of it:
Switch to Colemak for the sheer unholy joy of it
Thanks for your feedback
Finally, a thank-you for your responses to, Master of none: on coming to terms with being average at everything from last time. Some of you told me you relate to it, which is heartwarming — it makes the world feel a less lonely place.
I did not add share buttons or visitor metrics to the new site; I knew I would fall into a relentless loop of checking stats and social shares instead of writing stuff. As such, I have no real way to know if anyone’s reading right now, so your feedback means all the more to me.
If you want to leave a note, you can thumbs-up or -down this issue using the buttons at the bottom and then optionally leave a comment, or reply to reach me directly. If you just want to quietly read and nod your head or think, “truly this guy is champion among idiots”, then that’s fine too.
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