Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Just as a heads up, my posts on here are going to be slightly schizophrenic. I have a couple other drafts for posts that because of computer problems, I haven't yet finished or posted.

I've been spending a lot of time at the local YSA (young single adult) church Institute building, about 3 or more evenings a week. I really wanted to make friends among the local Austrian YSA while I'm here, instead of simply staying in my comfortable American bubble. That has been a great blessing, and I'm learning a lot as I come to know my fellow university students.

An interesting phenomenon has surfaced a few times though. My first Sunday, I was one of the only Americans to particpate in the activity after church, and because of that I was invited to attend a baptism afterwards and spend even more time with the kids my age. Towards the end of one conversation, the young man I was talking to commented that I'm very open-minded for an American, and especially for an American Mormon (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). I appreciated his words, but I was also puzzled: I didn't consider my actions unusual, because I just acted out of my love for and interest in other people. Some people are shyer than others - and I often find myself in that category - but why would socializing with an Austrian be any different from socializing with an American? (Most of the Austrian young adults speak excellent English). I told myself that maybe he's just had unfortunate experiences with Americans.

That happened two Sundays ago. Since then, I've continued hanging out with the Austrians whenever I can; it's been so much fun! I haven't seen that first guy since that Sunday, but I've met and befriended others in the meantime. And other small experiences have added to that first "You're really cool for an American" impression. Just last night I was talking to someone about the Fourth of July, and he said something about where to find hamburgers, and my teasing response was "I'm in Austria to learn about Austrians, not to have what I'm used to in America!". Then he kinda stopped and looked at me and said "Wow. That's really awesome."

I've also been noticing more surprising things in my student group. Some of them have said flat-out, "I am an American tourist; why should I act like something I'm not?" They have adapted more to some things like "Rechts stehen, links gehen" (stand on the right, walk on the left) on the subway escalators, and the differences in food and grocery shopping. But sometimes I wish they would be more considerate with things like speaking quietly and not looking like loud, obnoxious tourists that keep taking pictures of anything and everything (I take tons of pictures too, but not when I'm making silly faces on the subway. I try to blend in for security reasons). I'm starting to see how some of these stereotypes regarding Americans got started.

So, I feel a little torn. On one hand, I'm very flattered and appreciative of the Austrians' friendship and apparent approval. At the same time, I feel self-conscious and a little embarrassed that such praise comes in comparison to poor etiquette by my fellow countrymen. My course of action doesn't need to change - I'm going to continue making wonderful friends, learning about the culture, and taking in as much of this beautiful old city as I can - but it does make me more reflective on what kind of impression I'll leave in Vienna when I fly home in 6.5 weeks. More than what I leave, though, is what I will take with me. I'm still figuring out what exactly that will be.

1 comment:

  1. Huh, that's really interesting. I had a discussion very similar to this last night with a friend of mine at the resort. Half-way around the world from each other we are seeing similar things regarding human nature. That really shows how much people are the same. I was noticing the courtesy and etiquette thing too - except I thought it reflected on college students not Americans (for obvious reasons).
    Thanks so much for sharing.