November 12 2006
-Where were you born?
Santa Monica, California, USA
-In which country and city are you living now?
I divide my time between Seattle, Washington and Aigen, Austria
-Are you living alone or with your family?
Sometimes I’m solo, sometimes I have the husband at my side.
-How long have you been living in Austria?
We’ve been living between two homes for going on 10 years.
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Austria?
I would never have chosen a small town in Austria as my home, but the heart wants what it wants! It’s my husband’s homeland.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Not really. There was a lot of paperwork, but because (a)we’re married and (b) we did all the processing through a small town office, it was quite painless. All it took was time. Getting my freelancer’s papers figured out was a little more complicated, though again, it wasn’t particularly difficult, just hard to understand.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
No, I’m on my husband’s plan.
-How do you make your living in Austria? Do you have any type of income generated?
I’m a freelance technical writer and have been lucky enough to have US clients who don’t care where I am. I do most of my communication by email with the random phone call or two when needed. Last year, for the first time, I was recruited by an agency for a two-month project in Salzburg.
It’s extremely difficult to find Austrian employers who will allow me to work from home and because we live so far from the city, this means that employment in my field is nearly impossible. My resume is listed with a number of European agencies, but my location means I get little interest. I’m much more successful working with US clients.
It is possible to apply for work permits before heading to Austria and by all means, do so. Skills don’t transfer there the way they do in the US and there’s a certain lack of imagination around hiring in Austria – they like certification and often prefer it to on the job experience. A fifteen-year veteran of manufacturing, for example, can be iced out by a recent graduate with paperwork that says she’s studied the field. Also, ageism is rampant – I was badgered relentlessly by a recruiter when I refused to state my age.
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I do speak some German, though my reading and writing skills are poor, to my endless frustration. I think it’s essential to learn the language. What’s the point in living abroad if you refuse to pick up the local lingo? There is no way a place can become a home if you can’t communicate in the local lingo.
We live in an area rich with traditions. There are parades and costumes and events that tie back to pagan times. There’s by no means a requirement to be involved in these things, but they are part of what makes our region special and it would be a shame if I skipped them. (For example, here’s one: http://www.nerdseyeview.com/blog/?p=139). Plus, they’re fun!
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Oh, my, yes. My two homes offer up vastly different lives. In Austria we live very close to the husband’s family and spend a lot of time sitting at my mother-in-law’s kitchen table. Our community is very homogeneous and oh so small. While we are close to spectacular nature – skiing, hiking, big outdoors – we have no cultural diversity. I pine for Thai food, the informality of my friends, the options of an urban area.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
We love to travel and hope to keep doing so for as long as it’s physically possible.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
I own a condo in Seattle, it’s a 2bd/1ba that would rent for somewhere around 1200 dollars. The apartment we have in Austria is subsidized by the government (my husband’s employer) so the pricing doesn’t really transfer.
-What is the cost of living in Austria?
We live in a small town, so housing is cheap; I could have quite the palace for what I paid for my tiny Seattle condo. I find dining out to cost a bit less than in Seattle – 7USD for an entrée as opposed to 10 or 12 in the US. Groceries are about the same. It’s hard to really define it because some things, like a visit to the dentist, for example, are quite a bit cheaper, but oh, the price of gas! I think if I sat down and computed costs for a month, I think they’d end up about the same.
-What do you think about the Austrians?
I find Austrians are friendly in a formal sort of way. They are absolutely willing to make the effort to communicate with you, and they can be quite a cheerful lot. But I also find their formality stifling. One doesn’t just drop by an Austrian’s home, one is invited. I also find them a bit disinterested in the new, and if you’re a foreigner, that means you. They can be very hierarchical and bogged down in titles – I find it odd that my mother-in-law will say hello from her front gate to Mrs. Lady with Dog even though they have known each other for 50 years. I am sometimes introduced as “Mrs. Husband’s Name” and I never get used to it. I don’t even use my husband’s name, so I have to look around and see who they’re talking about!
I once met a baker who had traveled a lot in the US. He said that he was stunned by how the people he met would invite him home to stay and MEAN it. Strangers he’d met in campgrounds would open their homes to him, let him sleep in their spare room, feed him, and show him around. “It takes an Austrian 10 years to invite you to stay in their home!” he said.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Austria?
Ah, the nature (where we live) in Austria is stunning. The snowy winters, the clean sparkling rivers, it is an outdoor lover’s playground almost all of the year. The food is outstanding, not just the meals you get in restaurants, but the quality of the ingredients you can get in the markets – there is so much less weird chemical stuff in the food. Austria isn’t a particularly challenging place to live, there are no deprivations, and it’s clean and stable and very safe. Austria is the land of Mozart, opera, high culture and art, and there’s plenty to enjoy.
On the downside, in spite of its updated appearance, Austria is old Europe. It’s bureaucratic, painfully slow to adapt to change, xenophobic at times. I dislike the cultural homogeneity and the isolation of nonwhite, non-Christian populations. Austrians dislike change and for this American, accustomed to embracing the new, it’s very frustrating at times.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Austria?
Learn the language, learn the language, learn the language. That’s huge. Embrace nature – it’s one of Austria’s finest resources – I learned to XC ski there and love it. Expect bureaucracy and be patient with it. Things will get done even if it takes nine times as long as you’d expect. Eat cake and plenty of it because cake is high art in Austria. Traditionalists are likely to feel very much at home almost anywhere in Austria – less conventional types should make a beeline for Vienna.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Austria?
Virtual Vienna has a lively discussion board for expats. They’re Vienna focused, of course, but they do have information about Austria that’s quite good for everyone, no matter where you plan to land.
For tourism, planning trips, finding out what’s going on in other places in Austria, I like Tiscover.
And because I’m an XC skier, I like Langlaugen & Nordic in Österreich, in German only. Snow reports are an essential part of life in Austria!
I blog about Austria (and a lot of other things) at Nerd’s Eye View.