Tuesday, March 3, 2009

How to become famous as an Austrian in America

If you ask an American to come up with three Austrians, there is a good chance that this is what they will come up with:


Arnold Schwarzenegger 
Governor of California, actor, fitness advocate, Terminator


Wolfgang Puck 
Famous cook, entrepreneur, caterer to the stars


Josef Fritzl
Kidnapper, rapist, pedophile

It's funny. We had Mozart, we had Freud, we even had The Sound of Music but it doesn't matter. Because there was some horrible guy in Austria who did a horrible thing and that's all that matters now.

Even though I always felt more European than I felt Austrian I was still proud to be from a country with a history of Art and Music and exceptional Architecture, a country with a landscape so beautiful that people from all over the world visit to experience it. 

Before we moved here E and I were trying to guess what I would be asked upon meeting new people. He guessed that people would ask me really stupid questions like "So, Austria, which country is that in?" or "So you speak French there?". I have been asked those questions before but not just from Americans but also from Europeans and Australians. In general I give people more credit than that though. I think especially people living in big cities like Chicago are usually more worldly and educated than that and I am glad to say that I was mostly right. 

I often try to avoid the topic, not even mentioning that I am Austrian. But I have an accent that I will most definitely never get rid of completely (and I am fine with that) but that people can't place immediately. When I talk to somebody for a while and it eventually comes out that I lived in the Netherlands for a while I can almost hear a sigh of relief "Ah, so you are Dutch!" (the funny thing is that they react the same way to E, after 5 years with me they can't place his accent either). There are times when I just leave it at that. If it's somebody that I know I will never see again, I might as well leave them in the believe that they guessed where I was from all along. But if I am going to keep on talking to them I will tell them that I am originally from Austria. And recently the reaction to this confession was often "So what do you think about the Fritzl case?".
Well, what DO I think about the Fritzl case? What do you think? E suggested I should say "Yep, that happens all the time in Austria. Happened to me ...".

And funny that people should ask me that here, in the mid-west of the United States, a place where some of the most vicious serial killers of our time are from - Gacey, Dahmer, Gein, ...

Five years ago I bet the first questions I would have been asked would have been "So what do you think about Haider?" and ten years before that it would have been "So Hitler was Austrian, huh?".

I wonder if my country will ever recover from it's crimes. Even Germany gets more credit than the Second World War. When talking about Germany Americans mention beer, food, how nice the Germans they met were and that the Germans make good cars and good products in general. 

When talking about Schwarzenegger, the accent and his heritage are long forgotten. He married a Kennedy and is now as American as one could be. Wolfang Puck is so americanized that I had to google him to find out if he really WAS Austrian - I could hear it from his accent and Wolfgang is one of the most Austrian names ever but it was never mentioned that he is in fact Austrian. He also does not serve Austrian cuisine in his restaurants.

Maybe the secret to being a successful Austrian in America is to try and forget where you come from.

Sorry for being M.I.A recently. I have been pretty sick with a bad cold. I am starting to get better now but am still on DayQuil and NyQuil.


Unknown said...

Perhaps the reason so many people ask you about the Fritzl case is because it represents a threat to the Midwest's proud reputation of having producing some of the most colorful serial killers the world has seen (arguably only California can give the Midwest a real run for its money in producing that much crazy per unit of population). Alternatively (or in addition), our strong propensity for our own brand of crazy naturally makes us interested in how other people are doing it. Make the reputation work for you rather than against you, as we do: "Something in the water here in the Midwest makes folks wanna sodomize and eat young boys, but my only vice is smoking too much. See how swell I am? Praise me." In your case, try stressing the fact that nobody's locked up in your basement and people will be quite impressed.

The Austrian said...

I guess I better start smoking again too!

contrarybear said...

And *I* probably ought to let that family escape from the basement storage room. They complain too much anyway.

Qui Tacet Consentire said...

I know; Austria's reputation abroad annoys me. Why can't I be Finnish, or Danish? Nobody has a problem with the Finns, or the Danes. In fact, everywhere I go I hear people swooning about Finland, Denmark, even Iceland and most Scandinavian countries. Either that, or they don't know much about these countries, so generally don't have any pre-conceptions.

As an Austrian however, that's all different. Though I haven't thankfully heard any of the things you mentioned in your post when I'm abroad (or well.. not thusfar, and the people were probably only being polite, and were thinking it anyway xD), it seems like people are pretty hard-pressed to say anything good about it, what I get often is "I went skiing there". Congrats. Who cares.

I don't have an Austrian accent and I'm proud of that. Maybe that'll make moving to Canada one day easier :D Talk about moving... how did you manage to move to and live in Chicago? What's always annoyed me about some people is how they tell of their life and list things as being completely ordinary while never bother explaining how the hell they were fortunate enough to get it done in the first place; moving to places like Canada and America are prime examples of that. How often have I heard "Then I finished school in Poland, worked for one year, moved to America..." HOW? Can you just finish studying, then *magic magic* you can just move to and settle in another country?

I'll probably be like 40 before I have the required education and work experience to move to a country that isn't in the EU, and by then I'll be too f'cking crusty and old to enjoy it. I want to spend my YOUTH somewhere else! I f'cking hate europe. And the countries in europe that I do like speak a language I can't understand. >:3

The Austrian said...

How can you hate Europe? I mean, it's not like it's all the same ... I would even go as far to say that every part of Europe is quite different.

I lived in the Netherlands for 7 years - this is where I met my husband who happens to be American and wanted to move back to the US eventually. We were together for 4 years (and, well, married) before we moved back on a spouse visa. I didn't plan to move to America. I was going to move to London. But I like it in the US.

If you want to move to Canada there is a special work/travel visa that allows you to live in Canada for 2 years. It is very similar to the Australian work/travel visa. Check it out.

In many countries in Europe you don't need to speak any languages but English and it's quite an advantage to be a native German speaker. Holland is one of those countries. You'll get a job in a day there and it's such an international flair there with an amazing amount of expatriates living in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Delft and Leiden. There are also national companies hiring German speakers in the UK (especially Edinburgh which is a fantastic place) and in Spain (Madrid and Barcelona).

If you want to leave Austria. Leave. I was 19, had less than 100 Euros in my pocket and just left. People always find excuses why they can't leave but it's really not that difficult.

Oh and about the accent - you might be right and you don't have an accent but I would suggest to wait until you meet some Americans who have only heard people from the area they are from. They WILL ask you where you are from. If it happens to my American husband, it will happen to you. Just don't want you to be disappointed.