-Where were you born?
I was born in Connecticut (outside of NY) but raised in California (outside of SF) and lived in 8 states before heading abroad to London, which is not where I am now.
-In which country and city are you living now?
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I am living with my Tyrolean husband. We met in Crete, Greece (in a small fishing village) while I was touring with my Swedish band - he was there on holiday. One month after we met, in between a touring break, I visited him in Innsbruck. One month after that, he picked me up at the end of my tour w/ my band in Prague, brought me back to Innsbruck and I never left!
One of our many silly wedding photos. It was held in the oldstown in Innsbruck, Austria, April 2007
-How long have you been living in Austria?
2 years if you count the day he picked me up in Prague and brought me back. If you count me going "home" to collect another suitcase or two and make it official, then I've been here 1.5 years.
-What is your age?
Just turned 38 this past July - yikes! Did I really need to tell the world that?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Austria?
As I said above, I didn't come up with it - fate did! I did, however, begin touring Europe as a songwriter in 2003 and from there ended up in 2004 living part-time in London, England. I was dividing my time between Austin, Texas and London, England when I met my husband.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
I don't need one as I am a freelance musician. I am also a freelance writer so I haven't run into any of those issues yet. I did, however, have a short-lived position with a friend teaching English at her company and found out I had a VISA to work here automatically under the "family VISA" since my husband is native. However, I ended up making the decision not to teach as it interfered with my music career which was at the time and still is, really taking off!
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
I am covered under my husband's insurance.
-How do you make your living in Austria?
I am a professional singer-songwriter-storyteller, so my job is all over the world, not necessarily just here. Any freelance writing I do is also generated outside of Austria. I do run an almost 500-member expat/local group here in town (www.innsbruckexpats.com) though and I have helped people with jobs by connecting them with both people I know, web sites and of course the best, word of mouth! It's a free site by the way, I just do it for the love of connecting people and giving people what I craved when I arrived.
As well, I like contributing to the community. It does get difficult at times and expats can be surprisingly demanding (for a free group!) and self-entitled. That's another story for another day though. So for others' reference, joining groups and clubs is a good thing if you are seeking not only friends and pursuing hobbies but finding jobs amongst other things.
-Do you speak German and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
Yes, I now speak German. It took the first year to just listen A LOT and being that my husband's friends and family do not speak English, I didn't have much choice in the matter! I did, however, take a while to "want" to learn the language here as I didn't necessarily "choose" Austria. I chose my husband and that is a very different thing. I imagine "trailing spouses" or re-located employees who didn't get much of a choice must feel a similar hesitation with the language if they arrived in a land they didn't feel at home in. Home is state of mind but it certainly is altered when you are challenged on a daily basis doing the simplest of things! Especially when you feel a bit like it's not the country you dreamt of living in.
With that said, after about a year I took a small group class very briefly, then six weeks (once a week) with a tutor to get going. From there I have been practicing by using it every chance I get. People assume my husband helps me and we speak it all the time. Exactly the opposite! His English is good so we have early in our relationship begun the bad habit of using English. We are trying to change this but so far haven't succeeded! :)
-Do you miss home and family sometimes? What are your favorite recreational activities in Austria?
I miss home and family ALL the time. That is my biggest heartache living abroad in a foreign-speaking country. Being that I only spent half the year in London when I lived there and they speak in my native tongue, I had a much easier time of it. But being married, buying a place (mortgage & travelers are not a natural mix!) and "really" living here in Austria (in a Germanic culture) has changed everything. It's nice to say, "Oh we live in the internet age and we can stay in touch through Skype calls, chatting and emails etc..." but in realitiy, it's the little things I miss like birthday parties, watching my nieces grow, Father's Day, holidays. When I see my family at Christmas I really see the aging, the living going on without me. That gets to me most of all.
Regarding activities... If you mean favorite recreational activities here in Austria I am for the most part open to anything. I used to run marathons so naturally running is easy to do here with all the trails on and off the mountains and I love biking too so that's easily done. It's the only way I get around actually, we don't use a car. We are able to borrow his family car whenever we like but only use it for trips out of Austria or the airport - sometimes sight-seeing with visitors in town.
Me and my husband being silly at a street fair around the corner from our house. Innsbruck, Austria
Hiking is my husband's mainstay (he grew up here, it goes without saying in the Alps!) and I love it once we are out doing it but I am not a die-hard fanatic about getting up early on a Sunday and hiking up the Alps! With that said, I'd be lying if I said I don't fall in love with it each time we do it. It's getting me out the door that seems to be an issue for me!
And although I once lived in Colorado, believe it or not I was never a skier. I only went for the first time last winter here in Tyrol. I know, crazy! I have a hilarious video to prove it! :-)
Otherwise, I did pick up rodeln which I had never heard of and do LOVE it. I love camping but we haven't done it since I've been here. We do go on A LOT of bike rides or hiking picnics though and participate in just about every Traditional/seasonal Festival or holiday. There are many not only in Innsbruck but in the surrounding villages. He and his family know where ALL the good ones are, without tourists, so it's very authentic and helps me to feel I am being "invited" into the culture on a deeper level. Hanging out with expats all day is not something I do. Actually, I have few good expat friends even though we meet many in my group on a weekly basis. Most of my closest friends here are local.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
Not so different than what I already do. I travel the world and fortunately if there is a country I want to see, I can book a tour there and make it a business trip! My husband on the other hand (for now) is tied to a day to day job in town. Should my music and writing go where I plan for it go, we may consider renting our flat and living in another country; if not back in the US (REALLY not sure about this to be honest) perhaps the UK where I tour quite a bit, maybe Berlin or Sweden. We really feel open but at the moment, aren't thinking that far ahead. We are enjoying our beautiful home, our wonderful friends (mostly locals and some expats) and simple, stress-free life we have managed to build! Riding our bikes to strawberry pick, then going home to make jam with them after, is a new idea of heaven to me - one I didn't know existed!
Live show in Cumbria, England, June 2008
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We bought a beautiful 100 year old flat in a nice part of town. Not "hip" and not run down by any means. Upcoming more like and perfectly situated so that everything is a 5-10 minute walk away!
We didn't just get lucky though! We spent 4 straight months looking on web sites, visiting real estate agents (which are NOT like agents I am used to in the US) reading the papers daily! If you want to call looking at sometimes disgusting and/or expensive apartments daily for 4 months (after being on the phone and emailing equally as much) and dealing with sometimes sharky and uninterested/rude agents lucky, I guess you could say we were lucky!
-What is the cost of living in Austria?
Not so far off from anywhere at the end of the day. Groceries are comparable, alcohol is cheaper! Toiletries are a nightmare to buy (really, scary stuff) but getting your hair done or eating out is about the same. Fast food is as cheap as it anywhere. The only difference is (for me) it's the Euro so obviously things are going to seem more costly as I am used to the dollar. With that said, I was living in London before this and almost anywhere is cheaper than London!
-What do you think about the Austrians?
I think if you don't march around and expect them to be what you want, you'll be fine. I think if you get used to the non-eye contact on the streets, the abruptness of the office and shop workers, the crazy amount of paperwork and strange hours they give and hold, the fact that running up to them and hugging them is not the norm, you'll be fine.
They are friendly but where I live, it's a culture line that runs very deep and the history is strong. The new generations (i.e., youth) are friendlier. However, they are also like youth anywhere in the world - a bit rude, self-entitled (there's that word again!) and a bit selfish. I think that's a generational thing though as well of course, a person by person basis.
Aside from the "watch your head for sharp objects" while grocery shopping (as in, they go so fast and don't look up and expect you to be FAST and out of their way) and the, "why are you looking at me on the street?" type of interactions, Tyroleans surprise you with greeting you (or anyone) entering a doctor's office. And no matter what everyone (for the most part) is doing when someone gets up to leave, they look up and say goodbye. Strange indeed but a welcome relief from a too-focused society with sometimes no flexibility and too many rules.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Austria?
The positives are you can get in and out of the dentist's office in less than 30 minutes! Ok, that's true but seriously? Positives are things are efficient here, safe and pretty well run for the most part. Taxes are high but it's nice not to worry about whether I can go to the hospital or not and if we run into trouble, we won't lose our home! And when we have a baby (which we are planning on) you receive some great benefits and incentives that would be unheard of where I am from. The social system is for the most part, really good. I like the tradition steeped in the locals and shown in "very seriously" taken events & festivities throughout Tyrol. Also, if you ask an Austrian about their culture and history, most know A LOT and are happy to share it with you. That's not so common where I come from. How about we don't go there? :-) And ask a Tyrolean about wildlife, the mountains and what they can and can't pick and eat, what plant can be used to make a walking hat if you are out hiking (a special kind only they know!) and other weird and wonderful snippets of information and they'll gladly offer it up! And don't forget, if you show some initiative with their language (and in some cases and situations their cuisine and humor) they are likely to warm up to you even faster.
In my case, I love how beautiful it is and in the case of the Alps where we are, the snow! I personally LIVE for it.
The things I miss here are the daily connections you can normally make while doing daily mundane tasks or walking down the street. It's not common (and doesn't really happen) to be smiled at and frankly if you go around smiling at everyone here (like say in Canada or America or Australia) you'll get a dirty look or just ignored. They'll probably think you're crazy or a tourist - or both! hah. If you do it while near the train station, they'll try to sell you drugs. Yes, really.
BBC live radio interview from my June 2008 tour
Seriously, the lack of daily connection part is difficult for me. The shopping at turbo speed and lack of customer service is definitely a negative (for me) and there are times I just can't be bothered to venture out and put up with it. But I will admit, it's also nice when you're in a hurry! You know you can get in and out without a lot of fuss...unless you're shopping on a Saturday afternoon that is! All the shops close early and most are closed on Sunday so people RAID the shelves and pack the aisles. It's a sight to be seen, once. Once is enough. Trust me.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Austria?
Just be kind and respectful. Learn the language, spend time watching and listening. Note: listening to listen and not talk. This isn't so difficult for most people especially considering the language barrier but you'd be surprised how many expats arrive and can't keep their mouths...well, you know.
Honestly, if you are not cursing your way through the streets, you'll be fine! And trust me, you'll have days when you'll want to! On those days, stay home and rent a movie or invite a friend over for dinner!
A short example is one day I was riding my bike on a street going the wrong way. Guess what happened? I was pushed off it by an elderly woman, while she pointed at me for riding the wrong way. She was yelling in German about it the entire time and not one person blinked an eye! They watched for a minute, then moved on.
Another quick tip; Yes, make expat friends but go out of your way to make local friends as well. Do not get caught up in the expat bubble. And if you do join an expat group (which I do recommend, it does help if you use it wisely) just mix it up. It's a nice way to initially learn about the town and make a few friends, as well as get out when you'd otherwise be hiding out! But don't spend all your time with expats.
With that said, it's a very nice resource to keep up with even when you are settled and a fun way to learn about new happenings and events, restaurants and take a rest with that foreign tongue if you should be in a foreign-speaking (to you) country. You can share your experience and tips with new arrivals and continue to hear about the latest find, exchange recipes, meet for coffee and just find a friendly shoulder - as well as offer yours. Equally important whether you've been in a new country one year or five. And remember, an expat group or club means International. You'll meet interesting friends from all over the world and learn insider information about countries and cultures you never dreamed of.
And coming from an expat site founder and owner, be respectful and appreciative. Don't just go in, take what you want and leave. You'd be suprised how many expats consider free groups something they are owed. Most active local expat groups are free and run by people like you and me (in my case, I run it alone with some help from my husband) and for no other reason then to contribute to the community in which they are also foreigners. In my case, we also open it up to locals so everyone benefits in interacting Internationally and locally. We spend a lot of time and money on the website, group, promotion and organizing activities. Like most local expat groups, we do not get paid. Our payment is helping people like ourselves and creating a community we can all benefit and learn from.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Austria?
My free expat and locals group here in Innsruck, Austria is: http://www.InnsbruckExpats.com
It's an almost 500 member group of both expats and locals. Foreigners and locals looking to interact Internationally at various events, join the ongoing email discussion group and ask questions, share advice, recipes, tips etc... etc... It's only been going 1.5 years but continues to grow showing no signs of slowing down! It's totally free, full of some amazing people - both families, students, single people, couples, etc... and is A LOT of fun. We do everything from seasonal type activities like rodeln and skiing, hiking and picnic'ing to movies, dinners, drinks or coffee meetings, poker games - you name it! And we are always open to new suggestions. Members are also encouraged to host their own events utilizing the group member list.
BBQ we held in our garden (for our group InnsbruckExpats.com)
I honestly don't have any favorite expat sites as I am all over the place. It's best to do your own research based on where you are and what you are interested in. At least that is what works for me. Also, I started my own group when I couldn't find what I was looking for when I arrived if that tells you anything. :-)
I do keep a blog not just about my life in Innsbruck, Austria but also my life as a songwriter, life participator....tumbleweed. You can find it through my web site: http://www.ChristeneLeDoux.com, and also just the blog at: http://a-travel-writer-blog-life-philospher.blogspot.com.
I have 5+ years of old archived travel blogs: http://christeneledoux.livejournal.com.
I keep VIDEO blogs of touring and being an expat: http://www.youtube.com/user/christeneledoux.
Happy traveling, wandering, tumbling and may this find you safe and healthy wherever you have currently landed.