A few weeks ago when I started to contemplate on how I would write a recap of the last six months, Hubs came up with a really great idea of us both writing our own versions. So here is his account of the last six months:
Six months in Vienna. Lots of memories have been made (good and bad). Leading up to coming here we both were scared of what waited for us on this side of the pond. However, just before our arrival, Vienna was named the top city to live in in the world. So we thought there’s no reason to be afraid, because the streets, obviously, were made of chocolate. I had no expectations of Vienna, I was not aware of the culture, history, cuisine, etc… In my mind, this place was a blank slate, and I was ready to let it mold me, inspire me, and convince me that the biggest life risk we’ve ever taken wasn’t going to be a mistake. To be honest, I can’t say we’re in love with Vienna, but we certainly don’t hate it either. From what we’ve been told, there’s an emotional cycle when moving to another country. The first 2-3 months are a high, the next 6 months are the lows, and finally there’s a recovery to somewhere in between. I’d like to believe that we’ve passed the lows and are on our way back up.
We hate moving. Hate it. But, it does make it more palatable when someone else is doing the packing for you. Leading up the move we got rid of stuff. Some stuff. OK, we unloaded several carfulls of stuff. Either to the dump it went, or our awesome family and friends were kind enough to take it off our hands. You never realize how many possessions you accumulate until it’s time to move them. So many times I would go through items we hadn’t touched in years and say, “what were we thinking when we bought this?”. The UN would have paid for us to store anything we wanted until we came back, but we didn’t take the option. The “cleansing” process was an incredibly more satisfying feeling for us.
We arrived in the middle of winter and, unbeknownst to us, one of the coldest and snowiest winters Vienna had seen in 100+ years. We came with 4 full-size suitcases, 2 carry-ons, 2 bags, and a dog with on the flight. It was surreal seeing all of those items lumped on a cart in the Vienna airport being wheeled out to our mini-van taxi. Our taxi driver wasn’t the nicest, but did get us directly from the airport to our temporary apartment without issue. As I mentioned before, there was snow everywhere, even on the streets and sidewalks. He dropped us off, took the luggage out of the van, left them all in the middle of the street, and before we noticed, hopped back in the van and took off. We did want to tip him, but ‘oh well’. “Welcome to Vienna, stupid Americans”, is what came to mind.
Temporary apartment living wasn’t so bad. My wonderful wife booked us an apartment, as opposed to a hotel. Having our own place gave us the chance to cook what we wanted and at least feel like something close to a home. I will always have warm memories of our first place here. Finding a long-term place was easy, to me at least, because Elaine took care of all the hard stuff before arriving. She had lined up 6-7 places for us to see the first week we were here. One of the things you don’t get quite used to is most places have one shower, one sink, and one toilet. I know what you’re thinking, “but Phil, you just described a typical bathroom.” I did, but I didn’t clarify where each of them are located. In a typical apartment, the toilet is in one room and the shower and sink are located in another separate room. In the places we looked at, the two separate rooms were located at opposite ends of the apartment. We didn’t end up with a place like I descibed. We were lucky enough to find an apartment that was built more recently which has two complete bathrooms, like in the US. Our apartment was the first place we looked at, and we immediately knew we had to jump on it. We feel very fortunate to have this place.
The language is a problem for us. We were conscious of the language barrier before we came. Elaine completed one month of intensive German courses in the spring and will be taking another in fall. I haven’t started yet, but plan to start this fall as well. Most people here can speak English, especially the younger generation. We don’t like relying on other people knowing English, though. We will be working to fix this.
Hershey has probably adjusted best. He loves it here. There are tons of other dogs he gets to see everyday. I am not exaggerating when I say this: Viennese treat dogs better than kids. This city is very dog friendly. You can take dogs in any public transit vehicles, restaurants, cafes, markets, and even grocery stores have a hook out front where you can ‘hitch’ your dog while you’re inside shopping. When I walk Hershey, I get a lot of smiles from the ladies. They talk to me about him. He’s a real chick magnet. What I should tell you is, all the ‘ladies’ that have talked to me are in their 70s or 80s, and they’re not talking to me, they’re talk to him, directly. One of the ladies even offered him her fur coat when it was cold and snowy out. He’s a real ladies man.
Work is work. The job I have here is no different from the job I would be doing in the US. The main difference is there are a lot of people from several nationalities. Since it’s a UN job, the official office language in English. I get to work in an English bubble for 9-10 hours per day. The biggest perk is we get 30 days of annual leave, with the ability to earn another 10 more by accruing comp time. You’d think nothing gets done, but the other side of that argument is that people may work harder to keep jobs with better perks. I feel like the unit I’m in works hard, and we DO want to make a difference. I don’t know why people think this, but the UN is not part of the US government, or have any affiliation. I’ve had several family members make this assumption, and I don’t get it. Yes, the US is the primary financier, but several other countries pay their dues as well. Employment selection is based on nationality first, in proportion to amount of funding received from a particular nation. Just to drive the point home, I’m the only American in my unit, out of 12 people. The UN is, however, essentially an international government run by other international governments. In this setup, decisions and change are often slow to materialize.
We are not on a long-term vacation. We lead the same lives here as we did back in the states. We still grocery shop, we still pay bills, and we still go to the dry cleaners. The language and culture are the main differences. Jumping from one European country to another is the same as getting in your car and driving to another state. We just happen to be smack in the middle of Europe and have access to several ‘states’.
The public transit in Vienna is remarkable. Undergrounds, street trams, buses, and light-rail trains all combine to allow us to eschew owning a car. I haven’t driven a car since January 21st on our way to Dulles airport. Converting liters to gallons and then Euros to Dollars, a gallon of gas costs about $7. I don’t want to hear any complaints about $4 gas in the US. Get real. Hardly anyone drives ‘urban assault vehicles’ here, that’s how they cut down on fuel expenses; it’s most small diesel cars. We have not even once contemplated buying a car here, there is just no need. If we ever need to drive somewhere rural we will rent a car. Owning a car, paying for parking, insurance, gas, and maintenance….no thanks. We’ll save that money for later when we actually need to drive again.
It’s only been 6 months and we’ll be here for at least 3 years. I have a feeling we will eventually fall in love with this city. From what we have been told, after two years you’re hooked and don’t want to leave. I have a bad (or good) habit in that I always give people the benefit of the doubt and try not to judge others. I want to give the city the benefit of the doubt and believe that it can only get better. I’m hoping that one day Vienna can prove us completely wrong and truly be the all-round best city to live in in the world and not just a pretty good city.