Berni Bernegger

Strange habits in Austria

Today, on this beautiful day, I had an idea at breakfast and wanted to find out what the general public had to say about it in the ski resort in Gastein. To start a piste survey, so to speak, on the topic: Strange habits of Austrians. Armed with my Atomic skis and my brain as a notepad, I set off to ask the guests on the slopes of Ski amadé what strange habits we might have.

Grumpy cordiality

Because the weather is great and I want to make the most of the time in the morning, I only strap on my skis very briefly after the ascent with the Senderbahn from the Angertal ski centre and then walk quickly to the suspension bridge. I want a photo of myself with a panorama in the background, so I ask a middle-aged lady in a fur hat and moon boots (she had only planned a walk to the summit today) to take a photo of me. I thank her and at the same time ask her for her opinion on Austrian habits. She looks confused for a moment, turns her head thoughtfully and then replies that she really appreciates the grumpy cordiality here.

Now it's my turn to look confused, whereupon she explains that her first encounter with Austrians was very strange for her. Because she comes from Italy and people there are always very open from the first encounter. Austrians aren't, but if you respond with good humour, then you get to know the warm and welcoming side of people here and that can often happen very quickly. Now I understand too, put on my warmest smile, say thank you and set off on the descent to the Stubnerkogel middle station.

Clean air... the air is so pure here!

Whilst queuing briefly at the gondola, I dare to ask further questions and catch a guest from America who has made the long journey to Gastein. I get on the gondola with him and he has a clear opinion on what is unbelievable - namely to open the window whenever it gets warm in the room. I look at the small gondola windows with a grin and am careful not to get up and open them. I try to explain to him that we do this to get fresh air, that it's healthy, and he interrupts me and almost shouts "Yes I know, that's what everyone tells me, but it's so cold outside!". All attempts to explain don't help, no - the cold has to stay outside and that's that. Okay, I can live with that and I'm already looking forward to letting the cold winter air back into my lungs as I enter the mountain station and ski down the black pistes.

Now they also want to pay by card...

After many descents from the top to the bottom (with a difference in altitude of a thousand metres from the mountain to the valley), I'm really hungry and decide to stop off at the Weitmoser Schlossalm. Marie*, a pretty blonde Swede in a pink ski suit, who has joined me at the table with her boarder crew, tells me that the strangest thing for her is that there are still many boutiques, restaurants and even some huts in Austria that don't accept cards or strongly prefer cash. Because in Sweden it's actually the other way round - using cash is only familiar to tourists. The whole crew nods in agreement, which prompts me to pay for a round of liqueur (as compensation fpr answering my question) to say goodbye - thank goodness paying by card is not a problem here ;-)

Do you like a refill of your plate?

The journey continues and at the drag lift, which then takes me back onto the piste towards Angertal. Here I hooked up with a grey-bearded Czech with a crooked nose and took the ascent with him in a slight crouch. When I asked him, he replied that he had been coming to Austria for years and always stayed in a family-run guesthouse. Over the years, he has got to know a lot about the family and has even been allowed to sit at the dining table a few times. According to him, it's good Austrian behaviour that no matter who comes to visit, you should never go home on an empty stomach or thirsty.

What we know from our visits to grandma's, he knows from the Austrians in general - main course, cake and coffee are the absolute minimum that is offered to guests in this country and a no is not accepted. "And of course you can't miss a good pint of beer," he calls after me with a wink as I turn off towards Angertal and leave him waving behind.


And at the end, I grab the last gondola of the cable car up the mountain and overhear the conversation of two English-speaking guys. And brace yourselves, they're talking about the exact topic of the day! Because what they find funny is our surprisingly polite manner in some things, well actually according to them only in one thing: greetings.

One of the two boys told us in an astonished voice that no matter what time of day or night, morning, noon or night, whenever an Austrian enters the room, the whole company is greeted loudly. Wide-eyed, the second one replies that the same thing happened to him, but only when he was sneezing, which he doesn't understand! I raise my head in confusion and look at the two boys, who only now seem to realise that I've been listening to them the whole time. Smiling, I explain to them that the words "Grüßgott" and "Gesundheit" must sound similar to them and why we use one and the other loudly at appropriate times - because that's the way it should be :-)

I say goodbye as I leave the gondola and as I reach for my skis, a snowflake gets up my nose and makes me sneeze. I hear three cheers of GESUNDHEIT! from the cable car staff and the two British lads. Grinning, I put my thumb up and finally set off on the last descent of the day.

* The name has been changed at the lady's request and for GDPR reasons.

Berni Bernegger

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