It’s important when aspiring to be a world traveler that said traveler become familiar with local customs or risk life, limb and/or ridicule, not to mention your ambassador status as a U.S. citizen (although my advice works across the board for everyone, not just Americans). Of course, you can save face by simply aspiring to be a complete ignoramus. That way you miss all the second glances, rolled eyes, bent noses and panties in a bundle (did I just say that?!).
Looking back, I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed my two days in Vienna last month. Had I not been completely oblivious of Viennese culture, I might have worried more about making a good first impression as an American tourist to the detriment of having a fabulous time in Austria’s capital city. Duh! It was great going about my visit oblivious to my cultural culpability.
Austrians obviously come by their neutral status and their sophistication naturally (NATO was so impressed they set up shop in Vienna), always rising above the banality of travel buffoons such as myself. Viennese are so polished when it comes to restraint. They’re so European! I think it’s that long line of nobility that runs in the Habsburg family.
I know, I know; if I’d done my homework ahead of time, I could have saved myself a lot of cultural culpability. That’s not one of the items I promised to work on. Verbosity; that’s all I’m working on right now. I can only handle one thing at a time. When I get done with verbosity, maybe I’ll have more time for the homework issue. But I digress (which is why I’m so verbose!). Doctors make the worst patients; (retired) teachers make the worst students.
Now you also know agreeing with my self-deprecating comments is considered rude and frowned upon when visiting Vienna. Your visit hasn’t officially started yet, but we are circling the airport in preparation for landing.
Viennese would never say a word about my lack of sophistication or preparation! They’d just let my regret fester when I returned home, which has worked quite well when it comes to my learning curve. I’ve silently dwelled on my cultural calamity for the last month. It's been painful given I tend to rip my band-aide off rather than opt for the slow burn. Either way, you won't catch me in jeans again if I'm anywhere near Vienna.
Which brings me right back to my original point; it’s easy to save face when commiting said cultural faux pas when you’re an ignoramus. Feigning ignorance is not the same as really being ignorant. The regret will simply start eating away at you the minute you start walking the streets of Vienna in your jeans now that you know the expectations. Of course, if you're the slow burn band-aide sort, you go right ahead and wear those jeans next time you're in Vienna and have a great time; that tough hide of yours can obviously take almost anything.
I know; you’re fortunate to have me; really, I don’t mind helping. It’s the teacher in me. I find joy in educating the masses. Always have. Experience really is the best teacher, although I still endeavored during my career to be the best I could be.
True ignorance can be bliss when it comes to handling regret. I know from experience the ignorant mean no disrespect, at least not like the arrogant. They just know nothing of cultural culpability. In fact, while I’m at it, I know nothing of the rudiments of the German language beyond ‘guten tag’ or ‘gruss gott’. German is the language of Austria, although they might split hairs a bit when it comes to Austrian German versus Germany German. But here's the best part - they all speak English! It's so handy given my ignoramus status! Besides, I let my money do most of the talking. Sadly, even money won’t buy sophistication and a good first impression. I happen to know a lot of ignorant, rich people. They're all over the news!
So there you have it. I’ve moved up one rung on the ladder of sophistication, at least in terms
of cultural culpability, which means you don’t have to start at the bottom like I did. If clothes make the man (or tourist), you can now make a good first impression, at last minus any fashion faux pas. Just keep the loud guffawing to a minimum, and I promise, you’ll fit right in, at least until you open your mouth and say something in English.
Your Trusty Travelista
P.S. Viennese love their dogs. By law, they’re trained and licensed (the dogs, not the owners) and frequently show up in shops, coffee houses and restaurants with said owners, where they are very well received (no second glances, eyes rolled, noses bent or panties bundled). The dogs rarely bark, unlike those yappy lap dogs or the protective breeds. Approaching a Viennese dog with the intention of petting said dog is another big cultural calamity.