The American’s Manual for Vienna/Austria

Okay, so the title might be a bit misleading, because the social rules and behaviors of us Austrians’ described below may be also of interest for tourists with another origin than the United States. It’s a glance into our soul and explaining a few things a first-time traveler to Austria or it’s capital Vienna might find interesting to know. I am by no means trying to tell you how to behave, it’s a free country and (relatively) open-minded. But I remember the ashamed face of one of my American friends when I tried to tip the guy at the gas station. Just because I didn’t know better.

1.) Fiakers
If you are in Vienna you might see the horse-drawn carriages called Fiaker. Especially tourists from Russia or China seem to take joy in using one of those for sightseeing-purposes along the Ringstrasse. Austrians with even the smallest sense of animal rights are not very pleased with them. The horses have to trot along one of the heaviest used streets in Vienna, buses and trams pass by, it’s loud, it’s against the nature of a horse. Don’t use them and don’t tell a local you did (if you did). It’s not going to earn you sympathy.


2.) Escalators
Easy. Stand on the right handside to leave space on the left for those who would like to pass by. Especially people in Vienna can get rude if you’re using up the whole width of a step, happily chatting away with your friend. Stand behind each other and stick to the right and you’ll be good.

3.) Default mode: grumpy
Don’t get us wrong if we don’t look like being easy to approach. The default resting face of Viennese people is some sort of grumpy. But once you get to know us, we’re laid back and happy to give you directions or hang out with you.

4.) Waiters
The point mentioned above leads directly to the behavior of Austrian waiters. Unlike in America they don’t tell you their name or want to chat with you. They want to take your order and bring your order, if you’re lucky you’ll get a nod. If you’re superlucky, you’ll get half a smile. Oh, and it’s not unusual that we take ages if we’re in a café or a restaurant. No need to rush as long as you make sure that you at least have something to drink in front of you.


5.) Tipping
Austrian waiters are not depending on tips. They earn regular wages and have all the social benefits every employee here gets: free health care, five weeks of paid holidays, paid sick leave, paid maternity leave, retirement plans and more. And on top they get paid pretty well. Of course it won’t hurt to tip your waiter the way would do back home, but nobody will give you weird looks if you just round up. Like if your total is 9,30 Euros it would be totally okay to say 10. I personally would give 11 Euros if the service was okay or 12 Euros if it was exceptionally good. (That’s why Austrian waiters love American guests ;))

6.) Wait to be seated
It’s not a real thing in low- to average-budget restaurants. You just storm into the room, look around like in panic and try to locate a free table. I think it’s barbaric and not very classy, but it’s how it works if not indicated otherwise.

7.) Traffic lights
If you are a pedestrian, you might watch people press buttons on yellow boxes next to the zebra crossings. I tell you a little secret: They don’t make the light change to green earlier, as people who press them expect. It’s only switching on the leading sound for blind people. A funfact most Austrian’s don’t even know.

8.) The sound of Music
I don’t know a single Austrian who saw the movie. Not one. Seriously. We do appreciate that Americans seem to love it but it also gave a lot of wrong impressions about our country. We don’t were Dirndl and Lederhosen daily, most of us don’t know how to jodel and we don’t have mountains everywhere.


9.) Alcohol and smoking
You’re legally allowed to buy beer and wine at the age of 16, everything else alcoholic at the age of 18 and cigarettes with 16 too. It’s allowed to consume alcohol and smoke cigarettes in public, there are even some bars and restaurants left where you can smoke inside. Bummer, eh?

10.) Toilet brushes
We don’t think they’re decoration. We use them. And so should you.

11.) Nazi and Hitler jokes
Not funny. The whole Nazi area is still something we’re ashamed of (and damn well should be), so joking about it is not appropriate. At all.

Have you ever been visiting Austria/Vienna from a foreign country and stumbled across some behaviors or situations that left you puzzled? Send me a message, I’ll try to explain 🙂


3 thoughts on “The American’s Manual for Vienna/Austria

  1. Nilda

    I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely appreciating every
    little touch of it I have you bookmarked to take a look at new stuff you post.

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