Just returned to Vienna from our first home leave. We are beginning our second year as an ex-pat family. It has been quite the adjustment. With that said, I have some random thoughts to share.
Let's talk about reverse culture shock!
We were surrounded by Americans speaking loudly and we could understand every.single.word. Americans are a loud, animated and happy people (on the whole) and it was fun to be back in the thick of everyone's conversation, whether we wanted to hear it or not.
From old city to the old pueblo, home is where the heart is. We returned to Tucson, Arizona, a smaller, less urban place compared to Vienna. Tucson was our home for more than 16 years and a place of beauty, not to mention superior Mexican food and Dairy Queen ice cream. More importantly, a place where we reconnected with family, friends and the beauty of the desert southwest. Seeing our former house for the first time in a year was a shock, but knowing home is wherever the 4 of us are together helped me through seeing the horrific landscaping and ugly metal javelina near my old front door.
American toilets. Need I say more? Of course, I doo. Stay tuned for "Abdicating the Throne."
A shopping spree, you say? I'm all in. God Bless the USA-for so many reasons. We are a land of choice, sometimes overwhelming choice. From products, prices and clearance sales to 24 hour super stores and mega malls. I can not tell you exactly why shopping on a Sunday in Target triggered a torrent of happy tears. The constraints of shopping in Vienna gave way to a binge, along with the credit card bills to prove it. When it comes to shopping American style, you really don't get it until you don't have it anymore.
Vienna: The Second Year
We had not been back for 48 hours before we were yelled at for getting stuck behind locked gates on the grounds of The Belvedere after dark. Oh how I missed being yelled at for some kind of infraction. I've decided to respond in Spanish. Or English. Or Spanglish. Bueno asshole!
The smoking, the staring, oh my. Vienna can be an ashtray and I did not miss that one bit. The smoking habit here is disgustingly rampant, from the cigarette butts littering the city to wafting smoke across your face in public spaces and restaurants (even the so-called "no smoking" areas). We've also returned to a place where people watching is taken to another level. It's one thing to surreptitiously give someone the once over, even offer a compliment on an item of clothing or piece of jewelry. In Vienna, you will be carefully evaluated from head to toe and back again. In a very obvious fashion. You can make the choice about a response: return the stare with the same level of judgement, return the stare with a quizzical smile or ignore.
Keep calm and carry on. Ultimately, it is wonderful returning to city life where you can step out the door and into a vibrant cultural scene every day. Compared to other European capitals, Vienna is a safe place, a lively and beautiful city with concrete jungle mixed with glorious green spaces. We have access to convenient public transportation and clean (delicious!) water straight from the tap. I believe everyone should live in a large city at least once in their life. What one loses in wide open suburban living, one gains in urban perspective. It is an important perspective to have. We are fortunate to live here.
I know the fog of ex-pat confusion and culture shock will continue to dissipate as our second year progresses and we will make the most of what has been the adventure of our lifetime. We were so happy to welcome family and friends who visited during our first year and certainly hope the visits will continue. Perhaps, I will impress you with my German language skills and knowledge of the city. If anything, I can help you order a cocktail, secure a seat in the least smokey section of the restaurant and stare down a gawker with my well-honed stink eye. Prost!
Looking forward to year two of A Vienna Waltz