Sunday, May 26, 2019

My First Week Living In Austria

(Linz, Austria, along the Danube River)
Hello from Austria, my friends! Or as they say here locally, "grüß Gott" (pronounced "gruhsse got"). I've been living in Linz for just a few days now, and have developed a special appreciation for this German/Austrian phrase. In many ways it captures the endless whirlwind of intricacies one must navigate when moving to a foreign country.

I first heard the term "grüß Gott" when a local greeted me at the airport. Like with any new phrase, my first step was to type it into Google Translate, my new digital best friend. After 10 minutes of figuring out how to type the "ü" and the "ß", The Google replied with an even more confusing answer of "...it means 'greet God'".

Wait a minute...is "grüß Gott" a religious term, a polite greeting, or somewhere in between?

My wannabe romantic world traveler self (likely the same self that decided moving to a foreign country was a good idea) kicked in. If a Muslim friend greets me with "as-salamu alaykum", I know it as "peace be unto you", a phrase with religious history, but really just a polite formal/informal greeting. A Hindu friend may use "namaste" ("I bow to the divine within you"), which I consider a bit deeper on the religious scale, but likely somewhere in the middle of greeting and deeper meaning. But if an American greets me with "Praise Jesus", I know for sure they are off the spectrum on the religious nutball scale, and likely about to hand me a pamphlet.*

I decide it is best to try out this new phrase in real life, seeking clarity in the embarrassment and corrections guaranteed to follow. I say "grüß Gott" to a German guy next to me, and he replies in English with "I hope not anytime soon!", an obligatory smart ass smirk and giggle to match. Ummm, yeah...even more confused now! I later ask a friend in Linz, who explains to me that "grüß Gott" is indeed an informal greeting, but only recognized in Austria and southern Germany as part of a local dialect. The German man I spoke to, likely from northern Germany, was kindly mocking my phrasing, as well as an accent that is already bending towards the oberösterreich (Upper Austria). The Austrian locals, however, do appreciate anyone using this term over the more formal, and German, "Guten Tag" ("good day").

(The church in my neighborhood, Postlingberg, sits on top of the hill)
(Drive by!)
Yup, welcome to my world. I'm two words in, and already on a multi-day stumble to understand. ;-)

But to no surprise to my fellow adventurers, I am loving the journey. Everything is so new - the food, the trails, the rituals, the sounds, the people - one has to steep deeply in the curiosity crucible just to get through the day. I ask simple questions of strangers with abandon, and am delighted with any comprehensible response. And, of course, I NEED to understand those responses now, for this is where I live. The exhilaration mushrooming from that rooted commitment is beyond anything I've experienced in vacation or travel excursions, and well worth the habitual humility. I feel like I'm eight years old again, needing to know, absorbing knowledge like a dry sponge, and collapsing in my bed each night, fully drained. Naps seem to be back on the agenda as well.

The solitude is nice too. I can't overhear conversations, watch TV, read the newspaper, listen to the radio, and all the Internet ads are gibberish, so there are few distractions. My true friends grow stronger, while hundreds of sorta-friends fall away, which turns out to be an immense gift of quality time. I have purged my material belongings to the essentials that fit into two suitcases, so I quite literally have no baggage. The whole experience is deeply cleansing for mind, body, and soul. My only local friends are those yet to be made, which will happen in time, but until then, each waking hour has a welcome meditative stillness.

(An inviting spot on the Traunsee Lake near a local trailhead)
And the trails...my god, the trails. Steep and vibrant, full of new flowers and birdsong, with "Huttes" every few miles where you can refill, refuel, watch families play, and meet fellow mountain folk. If your long run wassn't long enough, you can pay 20 Euro for a cot, wash your clothes in the sink, and start again in the morning with a full breakfast. No bears or mountain lions, although I did have a swan face me down when I got too close to his mate (they are HUGE in person, btw). It is all glorious beyond expectations, and the smile lines sunburned into my face are quickly establishing permanence.

(One of many inviting Huttes)

(Refuel!!!)

Routine will find me soon enough, I'm sure. Each day I pick up a couple of new phrases, and I already no longer require the English menus at restaurants. My new job starts tomorrow, and Christi and the girls will be joining me in a few weeks. I don't need a map for the local trails, although there are still more than enough wrong turns to keep them insatiably new. The adventure continues!

Tchüss!

- SD






* No offense to those of deep religious belief - I say this with the deepest respect to those who devote their lives to a greater purpose. The freedom to craft one's worldview is one of the great gifts of the human condition.  I am certainly a top 5% nutball in my beliefs as well. 

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