Tuesday, December 5, 2017

So Your Character is From Austria ... Featuring Becca @ The Punk Theory, Anna @ My Bookish Dream, & Kat @ Life and Other Disasters

It's time for this week's So Your Character is ... Post! This is a weekly segment where I interview lovely volunteers from around the world to give you a firsthand account of being a citizen of their respective country or having a disability. I'm hoping to encourage international diversity, break stereotypes, and give writers a crash course on how to write a character from these different places on our planet. If you haven't checked out last week's  So Your Character is from Brunei ... be sure to hop on over there and give it a read!

Disclaimer: The content below may be culturally shocking to some. Each of these posts are as uncensored as possible to preserve the authenticity of the cultures of each of the interviewees.

(None of the Images are Mine)

My name is Becca, I am 22 years old. I live in Austria. Originally from Tyrol (in the western part, with lots of mountains and nature), I moved to Vienna (the capital, in the east) to study here. Currently, I’m working on getting my Master degree in communication science.

My hobbies include yoga, bouldering, surfing, snowboarding, but also sewing, baking, and crochet. In my blog ThePunkTheory.wordpress.com I talk about my love for books, movies, and TV shows.

My name is Anna and I’m 21 years old. I moved to Austria three years ago and have ever since then lived in Vienna, which is the capital city. I’m currently studying Art History at the
University of Vienna. I love reading, it’s been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember, aside from that I love art, painting and going to museums. I also enjoy watching anime, tv shows and listening to music.

My name is Kat, short for Katja, and I am 23-year-old born and raised in Vienna, capital of Austria. That’s also what my part of the questionnaire will focus on, because I didn’t feel equipped to talk about my country as a whole. I am a former film student, aspiring writer, and book blogger obsessed with all things pop culture. Currently, I am on a gap year, trying to figure out where I want my life to go and also where I want to live in the future. 

What do you feel is unique to your country? Landmarks? Celebrations?
Becca: One special thing about Austria is that it has so many different things to offer. We have it all, from mountains with skiing areas and little villages to big cities like Vienna. Within just two or three hours you can get a complete change of scenery. 

When it comes to celebrations, Austria definitely has some weird stuff to offer. For example in December St. Nicholas is accompanied by the Krampus, some sort of Demon who whips up the bad kids. There are traditional runs of several Krampus clubs doing performances!
Another weird one is Perchten. You might compare it to Halloween, as you dress up (preferable as some old hag with a mask on) and go from house to house. As a kid you may get sweets and a little bit of money, the adults usually get Schnaps (a traditional Austrian shot).

Anna: Austria has many castles and palaces, for example, Schonbrunn Palace, Hohensalzburg Castle, Hofburg Imperial Palace, Belvedere and much more. St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna is at the center of the city and is considered one of the most important churches. The celebrations that I feel is unique is the Oktoberfest, which actually happens during September despite its name. The other celebrations that I know of are Christian holidays, so they aren’t really unique.

Hohensalzburg Castle
Hofburg Imperial Palace
Kat: Vienna is mostly known for its culture, having been a sort of European hub for centuries due to its quite central location. It allowed the city integrate a lot of influences from other countries over the years. I personally really enjoy the Vienna downtown area. It has everything from gorgeous churches, opera houses, former imperial residences, and lovely small cobblestone side streets.

As far as celebrations go, Vienna is known for some pretty big yearly events such as the 
Opera Ball (society highlight of the carnival season), the Life Ball (Europe’s biggest charity event supporting people with HIV or AIDS) or the Danube Island music festival (an open-air concert spanning up to three days completely free of charge). They tend to attract big crowds and media coverage from all over the world. 

The image shows St. Stephen’s Cathedral or as locals would lovingly call it the “Steffl”
Tell me about your country's environment. What are some of your favorite places?
Becca: When I’m in Tyrol, I just have to step outside to enjoy the nature. There are many remote places to sit down and relax. In Ziller Valley, where I originally come from you can do everything from snowboarding to hiking or climbing. So whenever I have holidays I head for Tyrol to be in nature.

But even in Vienna, you can find many green spots. You wouldn’t expect it from a city this big, but there are numerous parks. My favorite one is the park surrounding Schönbrunn castle. When the weather is nice I spend hours strolling around there!

Ziller Valley
Anna: I haven’t actually visited that many places outside of Vienna, though I hope to do that in the future. But what I have seen from the countryside, while traveling, was simply beautiful. The nature is stunning and just calls you to explore it. My favorite places in Vienna are the many beautiful parks, the Museumsquartier, Schönbrunn Palace, and I love spending time near the Donau.

Schönbrunn Palace
Kat: Vienna has been known to rank very high in quality of life studies. There is great public transport as well as many green spaces and parks all throughout the city. I am not sure I really have a favorite place to hang out though, mostly I just like wandering around, because I often feel like I am still discovering new aspects to my own hometown. 

Tell me about your country's food. What are some of your favorite dishes?
Becca: Well, most of the typical dishes are either super greasy and heavy or extremely sweet. The most famous main course is the Wiener Schnitzel. Research among my friends shows that almost every household eats Schnitzel on Sundays, there’s no way around that.
However, what I prefer more are the Austrian dessert. Sacher cake is a dream coated in chocolate and easily one of the best cakes in the world. Austrians also have a thing for puff pastry, the most famous version of that being Apple Strudel.

Sacher cake
Anna: My favorite savory traditional Austrian food is Wiener Schnitzel. It’s definitely the staple food and one you can find everywhere. I have a big sweet tooth and cakes are something I adore eating. Two traditional Austrian cakes that I love eating are the Sachertorte and the Linzertorte. They are both my favorites, even though they are quite different from each other.

Wiener Schnitzel
Kat: Austria’s cuisine can go both ways – either be very savory or very sweet. For one there is the infamous Vienna Schnitzel, which is breaded and pan-fried cutlet of veal (that last part is important if it’s not veal, it’s not a Viennese Schnitzel) or Tafelspitz, boiled veal or beef in broth served with horseradish. But if you look at the sweeter side, I would definitely recommend Kaiserschmarrn (Emperor’s mess), a kind of shredded pancake, or Sachertorte, a special chocolate cake made at the hotel Sacher – its recipe being a secret still.

Tell me about any different speech patterns in your country. Slang? Idioms? Words for things such as “biscuits” instead of “cookies”?
Becca: In Austria, we speak “German” or so they say. To be honest, no German is able to understand us. Especially in the western part of the country (like in Tyrol) the accents are VERY strong and not even the other Austrians are able to understand us. But apart from that, we have some general words that are different from German: for example, a Tüte is a Sackerl (Bag), a Kartoffel is an Erdäpfel (potato), Sahne is Schlag (cream). 

Anna: This is a question that I don’t feel I can answer properly. First of all, the official language of Austria is German (which is not my first language). And I do know that Austrian German has quite a lot of slang words, but I don’t know any of them.

Kat: Upfront, I want to say that there is no such thing as an “Austrian” language. We may have different accents or dialects, but what we speak is still proper German. However, we do have different terms for words compared to the Germans. Here a couple examples: a prune is a “Zwetschke” in Austria and a “Pflaume” in Germany. A tomato is a “Paradeiser” in Austria and a “Tomate” in Germany or potatoes being “Kartoffel” in Austria but “Erdäpfel” in Germany. You see, it’s mostly food-related. 

Describe briefly a regular day in your country.
Becca: A typical day varies a lot depending on where you live in the country. For example, in Tyrol there are still many farmers. The region I used to live in is focused on tourism, so most activities revolve around making the guests welcome.  Well, Vienna is a regular big city, I guess there aren’t that many differences. ;-)

Anna: My day usually starts with going to university for classes and then afterward going to the library to study and research things for any projects that I have. Afterwards, depending on how much time I had to spend in the library, I would go to a nearby park to relax and enjoy the weather. On the days that I don’t have classes I love going to the many different museums that can be found in Vienna and hanging out with friends doing many

different things.

National History Museum Vienna Austria
Kat: That seems extremely difficult to me, seen as it is probably very different for everyone. School kids will most likely have to be at their first class by 8 and depending on which school they attend, be there until 1-4 in the afternoon. None of the schools I visited had much to offer in terms of electives but almost all schools had the option of after school care. A regular adult job will most likely be from 9-5, but again, that very much depends on the industry they work in. 

How does your country compare to others, especially the States since my audience is primarily American? Environmentally? Politically? Culturally?
Becca: Austria has many different cultural things to offer. There are tons of museum and castles to check out but also opera and theater. One thing I’d like to point out is that Austria makes a point of making those things available to everyone: most museums are free if you are under 19, and you can get student discounts almost everywhere. 

In terms of politics, more stuff has been going on the last few years than in ages. For example a new president was elected and due to one problem after the other it took forever for one of the guys to be finally elected. We also had to deal with a lot of refugees in the last year coming from all over the world. It also shows in politics as the right wing party is gaining more and more supporters. But as it seems, this is currently a collective European problem.

Austrian President
Anna: This is a rather hard question for me to answer. First of all I’m not that familiar with the political situation in either the States or Austria, so answering that question really seems impossible to me. Compared to the States, Austria has an older culture and traditions, that also comes with older architecture and cities. Aside from that I don’t think I’m the right person to answer this question, as I am not overly familiar with either culture.

Kat: Well, for one, Austria’s history is a whole lot longer than the one of the US. We are a democracy with a multiple party system. In general, the chancellor usually holds a little more power than the president (kind of like in Germany). Currently we are part of the EU and a neutral state (although I don’t think anyone sees us doing that as seriously as Switzerland). We are a pretty small country, comprised of glorious urban areas as well as mountain ranges. 

Austrian Chancellor
Briefly describe three of your country’s historical events that you feel are important.
Becca: Well, we had two world wars going on here and basically being started by Austria. The first one happened because the heir to the throne was assassinated. WWII is due to a crazy Austrian guy going to Germany to take over the world…

Apart from these very obvious picks that shaped not only Austria but the entire world, I’d like to mention Zwentendorf as most people, especially of my generation, won’t know about that. In the 70s the government decided to build a Nuclear Power Plant. But due to many protests the Austrian people got to vote whether they want it to enter service, after it was finished. The majority voted against it. So the only Nuclear Power Plant we have in Austria was built and never used.

Anna: I feel like there are many important historical events that happened in Austrian the three that I would like to mention are:

  • In 1365 the University of Vienna was founded by Duke Rudolph IV.
  • In 1867 the dual-monarchy of Austria-Hungary was established.
  • In November of 1918, the last Habsburg Emperor was overthrown and Austria became a republic.

University of Vienna
Kat: Hmm … you can say about monarchy what you like, but we did have a couple of really good empresses and emperors. Maria Theresia reformed education in the late 18th century and made school mandatory for both genders from age 6-12. She also allowed non-Catholics to attend university and for secular subjects to be taught.

Sissi and Franz (Elisabeth and Franz Joseph I, Empress and Emperor of Austria) were one of the biggest love stories of my childhood. Never mind that their story gets romanticized and therefore falsified a lot of the time.

Now, I held it off for as long as possible. Austria’s annexation to Germany in World War II was a big and dreadful event in my country’s history. Many like to pretend that we were the first “victim”, but images from back in the day show that the troops were welcomed. I don’t pretend to know what happened or how people felt during that time, but as a country, it has weighed on our shoulders since. That is the reason why school takes extra measures to ensure that those dark days aren’t forgotten and that history won’t repeat itself. Classes don’t just talk about it regularly at school but they even visit former concentration camps or talk to survivors if possible.

What are some stereotypes about your country that irk you? What media portrays your country badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Becca: Well, not many foreign media ever pick up Austria; usually people confuse us with Australia.  But something that often leads to confusion is The Sound of Music. The movie is super famous around the world, but most people in Austria never even heard about it. So, tourists often expect us to run around yodeling and dancing in some alpine meadow all day long…

Anna: I honestly have no idea. I don’t think I know any bad stereotypes of Austrian people. The only ones I know are that they are very polite and are always on time, both of which aren’t bad to be known for. (Or that’s at least what I have heard.) I just haven’t seen any movies or tv shows that portray Austrian in any way, least of all a negative one.

Kat: I’m not really sure I am aware of many Austrian stereotypes. I guess we don’t all wear Dirndl and Lederhosen (traditional folklore clothing) or know how to ski, but that’s about it. Most representation we get is some correlation with World War II and that blurs the line with Germany most of the time. I am just glad when people know where Austria is and that we aren’t Australia or a part of Germany.

I have to make one thing very clear, no Austrian I know (excluding the people in Salzburg who have to deal with tourists) has ever seen Sound of Music. If you reference it to us, we won’t know what you are talking about. Of course, now there are memes everywhere, but I spent a semester abroad in the US at age 15 and that was the first time I had ever heard of it. I am not kidding! I still haven’t seen it, neither have my family or friends.

I know whatever Sacha Baron Cohen does is supposed to be satire, but I have no idea what he was thinking when he produced “Brüno.” That thing is atrocious.

What media portrays your country well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Becca: I really enjoyed The Third Man. Although I cannot really account to its authenticity, I feel like it gives a very appropriate picture of Austria after WWII.

Anna: Once again I have no idea. I have been thinking about the movies and tv shows that I have watched and if any of them portray any part of Austria. I’m coming up blank, I seriously don’t know any of them. (Aside from some historical documentaries that I have seen, but I don’t think those really count.) It’s the same with books, I don’t think I have ever read a book set in Austria and I don’t think I have heard of any books set here. This is definitely something I that I should research in the future.

Kat: The 1995 movie Before Sunrise let its characters spend some time in Vienna and I can’t really say anything bad about the way it showed my city. It’s one of the better portrayals for sure.  Other than that Austria usually only gets a brief scene in action movies like James Bond or Mission Impossible. They show the opera or some other cultural event and I guess it’s not wrong to show that, although I would very much like to think that’s not all there is to the country.

Who are your top three favorite characters native to your country in books, movies, or shows?
Becca: Again, this is hard to answer as Austria is not exactly everybody’s first choice for character origins. To be honest, the only one I can currently think of is Hans Landa in Inglorious Bastards. Brilliant movie and one of Christoph Waltz best movies!

Anna: As I have already mentioned in the question before, I haven’t really seen any movies or tv shows, or read any books, that portray fictional characters from Austria. I’m assuming that people from this country needed to read some books about Austria and books by Austrian authors for school (as I had to for my country) so they probably have a larger knowledge of this topic than I do.

Kat: I cannot think of a single character. Most of the time they are shown as adversaries to the hero or have something to do with World War II (which, as I’ve mentioned, is a dreadful topic for me). Even if I thought about exclusively German literature and TV, it’s often difficult to tell who is from Germany and who is from Austria. Generally, I am not much of a fan of the stuff that gets produced here either I am afraid.

Thank you, Becca, Anna, and Kat, for this very informative post! I hope everyone enjoyed reading it. Come back next week for So Your Character is from Austria ...!

Are you interested in participating in this project? Check out the tips archive to see which countries have been filled and if you're from a different country, shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail(dot)com. I'm especially looking for Spain, Denmark, Kenya, Argentina, Iraq, and Egypt.

Do you have any characters from Austria? Did this inspire you to write a Austrian character or set a book in Austria? Are from this or been to this country and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Becca, Anna, and Kat? Be sure to thank them!

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