Monday, March 22, 2010

A New Girl in Town

(Last year in Spring; flowers not quite here yet)

Although my friend, Rachel, did not write this specifically for the blog, she said I could share it with you. She sent this update on HER LIFE IN GRAZ to friends and family last week. Rachel is originally from England and is getting her Masters at a university in the small town of Heidlberg, Germany. Part of the program is six months of studies in Graz.

She e-mailed me months ago after finding the blog and we kept in touch (via e-mail) until she moved to Graz and we finally got to go grab coffee and meet in person a month ago.
We liked the real life versions of each other too. Hey, you never know. And...Rachel has studied German for a long time and I am very jeally of her skills. {Although, as you can see below, Austria is a whole 'nother ballgame.} Umm, and her classes make my German class look like Torte. Tell me to 'shut it' next time I act overwhelmed.

(Last year again. I LOVE THESE PINKIES!)

So, I thought you might enjoy reading about someone else's experience for a change. {You will love how she says "winter woollies".}

Without further ado, I give you Rachel


It’s finally happened, after a false start a few weeks ago which saw people eating ice cream in the park in short sleeves one day and me unpacking my winter woollies and boots the next, the ice age is over, Spring has arrived! For the first time in months I’ve been able to leave the house without looking like I’m on a polar expedition. To top it all, I managed to track down my summer clothes which it turned out hadn’t been lost by Deutsche Post at all but had been sitting at the Post Office just round the corner for the past ten days.

I’ve already been in Austria just over a month and although it’s only four hours to Munich, I’m still feeling like I’m living not just in a different country but sometimes on a different planet. You might not think it but Austria and Germany are as different as chalk and cheese. Things are probably quite different in Vienna or Salzburg, but in Graz, as my friend Carolyn put it, you get the odd feeling you’ve somehow stepped back in time to the 1960s, and that’s not just because they haven’t got round to replacing the trams since then. The Austrian mentality and attitude to life is markedly different, as is the language. Hochdeutsch and Austrian German are as different as British and American English, if not more so. Dealing with people in offices, at the university or meeting other students is getting easier, particularly once I stopped opening my mouth in surprise that yes, they sounded really Austrian whenever anyone spoke to me. I have one seminar with some Ancient History professors though (the class that is, although the professors are pretty ancient too) and I don’t even manage to understand half of what they say which will be interesting when it’s my turn to write a summary of the lecture . . .

If Graz is still living in the 1960s, at the market you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the 1860s. Headscarfed farmers’ wives bring literally what they’ve grown/slaughtered/baked that week. So you might get a stall that just sells apples and a few bunches of carrots or homemade cakes and a few joints of beef. Don’t get me wrong, the market is fabulous although I’m not sure selling raw meat that’s not refrigerated complies with EU regulations, it didn’t kill me but I’d be interested to see how they manage in summer. The main problem, again, is the language. The local dialect here is completely incomprehensible to me and sounds nothing like any German I have ever heard. Not only do I not understand them, they seem not to understand me. A request for four onions, for example, which in Germany, would result in my receiving and paying for four onions is met with blank looks of bemusement here.

As I discovered in Germany, although talking about being sweaty is ok, exercising in public is not. So I should have known really, when I set off for my first run on Austrian soil (in the pouring rain I would like to add) that running down Herrengasse, the chi-chi centre of shopping in Graz, as everybody was leaving work, was not the done thing at all. From what I can gather runners are relegated to the suburbs but as far as I’m concerned, what helps me keep going on a run is the opportunity to window shop. I used to do this in Oxford, whilst cycling, with obvious catastrophic consequences. I have since discovered the park, which amazingly, is free (Germans, take note).

Unlike in Germany where shops open until 8 o’clock so it’s actually worth going shopping after teatime, I was unpleasantly surprised to discover shops here close at 6 o’clock! Presumably this is so that everybody can get to mass on time (6:15pm) but it already seems as if everyone simply uses this curtailment of shopping time to meet for an aperitif (the continental version of heading to the pub). Sadly I won’t be joining them for a while as in complete contrast to last semester I actually have quite a lot of work to do like prove I can speak Arabic before Easter, teach myself the entire history of Ancient Egypt and attempt to sound like I’m some sort of expert on Jewish burial rituals. Still there’s only a week until the much-needed Easter holidays begin, when I’m randomly (or perhaps not so randomly) off to Romania! More on that then . . .


Kimberley Preston said...

Hi Carolyn! Lovin' your blog. Caroline told me about it and I've been reading it, laughing my head off! Lots of similar experiences! Just read your comment about the "unusual" winter weather...just like the "unusual" summer weather. Apparently, the weather has been "unusual" ever since we got here! Looking forward to your next post! Cheers!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Carolyn. I don't know how I came across your blog. I sincerely thank you for taking the time to document your life in Graz. You are so down-to-earth and your pics are beautiful. Your blog is very mind-opening. Thanks! - Monica

Trang Thao Nguyen said...

I am more and more in love with Graz through ur posts. Please keep writing....I also live in Graz since January...and now I really do feel the same way as u about this beautiful and peaceful city^^
Thanks for sharing ! Trang

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- Carolyn