Sunday, 27 April 2008

The kindness of strangers

Vienna is infamous for its grumpy inhabitants. Travel guides, tourists and Austrians who don't live here like to describe the Viennese as unhappy, rude and not interested in other people. We are said to simply not care about anyone else and at the same time to be irritated easily. If you listen to Austrians talk, you'd think that the Viennese are born with a sour expression on their faces. It's even a part of the self perception of the people who live here that we're, in essence, "grantig".

This seems to be applied, especially, to tramway or subway rides, to people who work in the public service, to secretaries, old people, people with lower income and the men who work for the Austrian trains.

(Old picture from a year ago: Maybe people think they're unhappy because they live in Gemeindebauten?)

Personally, I think most of this is ridiculous. There's certainly a lot of melancholy around here, but in my opinion people treat you like you treat them. Everyone who has ever complained to me about the grumpy Viennese wasn't particularly happy themself. I talked about the whole issue with Laurin ages ago and we agreed that we'd have to start being extra-friendly with strangers. You get what you give, don't you?

It works. Sure, I'm a bloody romantic and I tend to see the nice parts of the city everywhere and idealise even the rough parts because I know them well enough anyway. But this is about the people who live here and they're fairly alright as well.
Two examples:

A couple of weeks ago I had a pretty rough week with loads and loads of university and work of different kinds and no time to breathe. I was on my way from university to one museum, knowing that after the guided tour I was about to do I'd have to stay in the other museum until 10 pm. It seemed a bit much at that point and I was just about to cry with exhaustion in the subway. I kneeled down and put my head in my hands, embarrissingly. An elderly women called out to me to sit down next to her and asked if I was alright. I was, then.

Yesterday two teenagers who looked slightly like those who shout comments at you if your tights are very bright stood next to me in the train. They were obviously newly in love and I couldn't help but look at them and smile. The guy looked up, saw me and gave me the most brilliant, happy smile I've seen in a while. He didn't look rough at all anymore, he just looked really content. It made me happy in turn.

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