Local Do's & Taboos
Customs of the Country
Austrians are keen observers of social niceties, and there are strongly embedded cultural norms for guiding behavior in all sorts of public interactions, ranging from buying a piece of meat at the butcher's (be extremely polite) to offering your seat on the metro to an elderly or disabled person. In general, always err of the side of extreme politeness and deference (particularly to age).
Greetings are an important part of day-to-day interaction with strangers. On entering a shop, for example, it's customary to say Grüss Gott or Guten Tag, "good day," to the shopkeeper as if he or she were an old friend. Don't forget to say a hearty Auf Wiedersehen, good-bye, on leaving. Austrians do like their academic titles. PhDs go as "Frau/Herr Doktor"; those who have earned M.A.s or M.S.s are addressed as "Frau/Herr Magister."
Out on the Town
In restaurants it's not uncommon to have to share a table with strangers—particularly in crowded places at meal times. You're not expected to make conversation across the table, but you should at least offer a tip-of-the-hat Grüss Gott when sitting down and a farewell Auf Wiedersehen on leaving. When your neighbor's food arrives, turn and wish him or her Mahlzeit, literally "meal time," the Austrian-German equivalent of "Bon Appetit." When it comes to table manners, there are a few departures from standard American practice (beyond how one holds a knife and fork). Toothpicks are sometimes found on restaurant tables, and it is normal to see people clean their teeth after a meal, discreetly covering their mouth with their free hand. Austria is a dog-loving society, and you will often find dogs accompanying their masters to restaurants.
If you have the pleasure of being invited to someone's home for a meal, it's customary to bring a small gift, like a bouquet of flowers or a nice bottle of wine.
Austrians tend to be far more comfortable with public nudity than Americans. Women routinely remove their tops on public beaches and sauna facilities at hotels and resorts with saunas are usually used in the buff by both sexes and the towel is optional.
German is the official language in Austria. One of the best ways to avoid being an Ugly American is to learn a little of the local language. In larger cities and most resort areas you will usually have no problem finding people who speak English; hotel employees in particular speak it reasonably well, and many young Austrians speak it at least passably. However, travelers do report that they often find themselves in stores, restaurants, and railway and bus stations where it's hard to find someone who speaks English—so it's best to have some native phrases up your sleeve. Note that all public announcements on trams, subways, and buses are in German. Train announcements are usually given in English as well, but if you have any questions, try to get answers before boarding.
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