I’m a Wiener, you’re a Wiener

Week 3 in Vienna will get a highlight-only reel:

Monday: back to the IFK. No idea what I did all day. Oh, wait, now I remember. The Institut's director, Prof. Lethen, gave a talk on "cultures of evidence" and the Q and A was remarkably like the colloquia at the UCI Comp Lit department. You may or may not get the reference. I don't care. My Fulbright friend Elizabeth came along and was not even terrified out of ever coming back, and as an extra added bonus my coworkers were conned, ever so briefly, into believing I have a friend.

Tuesday: Went to the Sigmund Freud Museum to hear what was supposed to be acclaimed novelist Louis Begley read from his provocative new Kafka biography, but which actually consisted of Begley offering a series of vaguely connected edicts about Kafka (some of which were quite right, such as "Felice Bauer shouldn't have sold those letters") and the Q and A made me really depressed, especially the guy who authoritatively declared that Kafka was really bad at his job and a lowly worker his whole life (when in reality he was the Austro-Hungarian-Czechoslovak equiv. of a VP by the end of his career and even briefly acting CEO during WWI). After the talk, my Fulbright friend Nicole, my IFK coworker Stephan and I went to meet some of the other FBers for a drink, whereupon I launched into a screechy diatribe in the general direction of poor Dan, a friend of one of my Fulbright friends I'd known for exactly twenty-five seconds before berating him for not giving credence to the nuances of black liberation theology.*

*Footnote 1. In other news, the 2008 presidential election (or as they call it in German, die Wahlkampf, which literally means "vote fight," which I think is pretty fucking apt) is turning me into a manic, depressed, Huffington-Post-addicted, emotionally free-falling crazy person. It feels to me like our entire nation is at a boiling point, with everyone's inner KKK bigot coming out to play and everyone else's inner cheeseball bursting into tears at some ridiculous slide show of Obama's life set to a treacly cover of "Let it Be." I can't take it. I feel like our country is at a breaking point. A breaking AND a boiling point simultaneously. It's going to break and then its breaking pieces are going to boil. And then after the boiling calms down, the now-liquid pieces that previously broke will solidify, re-break, and re-boil. That is what's going on right now. I can't take being so far away from it, so far away from everyone I love, in the middle of this city that is overwhelmingly beautiful and full of wonderful fun things to do that I for the most part can't bring myself to do because the cultural differences all seem to be piling on me at once. And by "cultural differences" I mean "getting busted for jaywalking," but I digress.

Anyway. Wednesday: Decided to fast for Yom Kippur, so zealous about this that actual fast took place day before actual Yom Kippur. Also stayed home from work. Watched second presidential debate. Enjoyed watching John McCain wander curiously around the stage and call Barack Obama "That One," which I wish he would do again to get the news to stop covering shrieking racists and angry civil rights leaders and shrieking quasi-racists disavowing the civil rights leaders. I repeat: simultaneous breaking and boiling point.

Thursday. Actual Yom Kippur. Went to work but still fasted (or mostly fasted, just like I mostly don't believe in God, and just like I mostly, by which I mean all the way, don't know Hebrew or have a Jewish mother). Did something interesting Thursday night, but completely forgot what that was. Oh, now I remember. Had dinner with Fulbright friend Caitlin at the Welt Café, which serves only organic fair trade food and has a super cool atmosphere and is 2 blocks from the IFK. Hummus was a little yucky, but what can you expect? Austria is not the hummus capital of the universe, I'm glad they even know what it is.

Friday. Felt horribly sick. Week-long cold gave its last gasps. Had to blow off coffee with Florian, my sole Austrian friend, and my German language abilities suffered for it, but my being-cold-at-night abilities did NOT suffer for it, because I also dragged my sick ass to IKEA and procured a new comforter that is "Wärmestufe 6," which is the highest Wärmestufe IKEA bedding goes to, people, because it gets not just cold in here at night, but FUCKING COLD IN HERE AT NIGHT, which is fine as long as one has proper bedding, which until a few days ago I did not. I also managed to get the loudest duvet cover IKEA had on sale, and that is saying a lot. Yawn. Yes, I know. But, wait for it–

Saturday. HOLY FUCKING SHIT. JÖRG HAIDER DIES in a car crash. Cause is ruled as speeding. No foul play, unless you count speeding. Carinthia, the Alaska of Austria (where he was beloved governor) has declared the end of the world (Weltuntergang) and in characteristic Viennese blasédom nobody here seems to care enough to tell anyone else what they think, and by anyone else I mean me, and perhaps this is because I don't know very many Austrians and I don't speak or understand Viennese dialect. My spiraling depression this week has a lot to do with my despair that even though I speak, as long as I'm not nervous, which is almost never, passably fluent German, I still cannot understand the local dialect (Germans say this as well, but I always thought that was because Germans and Austrians hate each other). I don't know if I ever will be able to. I hate being foreign all the time. I hate getting looks from waitresses like they can't understand me when I KNOW they can understand me. I hate having to carry the foregrounded nonlinguistic or quasilinguistic assumption I'M FER'N with me everywhere I go. I am, despite its logical impossibility, heartbroken I can't magically morph into a Viennese at least on the outside so people stop thinking I'm stupid in public places. I often go 8 hours without eating during the day simply to avoid an awkward interaction with someone who works somewhere. I blame Jörg Haider for everything, because it is easy to blame the dead.

Sunday. Finally all better from cold. Take huge long walk and end up in 7th district, and then 6th, both of which are so super cool and filled with beautiful buildings and weird shops and bustling people. Briefly buoyed by this and classic Viennese coffee house hi-jinks with some more Fulbright friends and their friends from elsewhere. Dreading with Pit of Dread somewhere between 4 and 7 the general Fellows Meeting at the IFK tomorrow, where once again I will prove to be a total choker at the German language and everyone will think I am dumb, or at any rate, weird.

So, as you can see from my third week here, the sheen of being somewhere new and exciting is beginning to wear off and the cultural baggage I carry around with me everywhere I go is beginning to be terribly heavy. I made a deal with myself today that if I still felt exactly the way I do now in one month, I'd consider going home (this because I know for a 100 percent fact that will not be the case…if only because the election will be over then and I will no longer be quite as crazy from it).

3 thoughts on “I’m a Wiener, you’re a Wiener

  1. Haider ist tot, und das ist auch gut so. It could be mysteriously due to your presence in the country, who knows? For god’s sake don’t walk out on them now. I have to go stockpile some gold, but you hang in there.


  2. Hi, Rebecca!! This is Eva, from IAG – I clicked on over from Patricia’s blog, I hope that’s okay. I just wanted to say that I relate so much to your last post; every day in Japan is a fresh humiliation for me while I’m struggling to learn Japanese. Just the other day, while at my friend’s concert, I said “I am [my friend]” instead of saying “I am [my friend’s] friend.” In a microphone. In a room full of people. I think the important thing is that we try, even if it makes us want to cry a little. Anyway, nice to “see” you again and I hope things get better in Austria, soon!


  3. Oh no, how can you starve yourself just because some Austian asshole might not understand you?! They should be honored to have you there! Yes, the Haider thing is pretty amazing.
    I used to be adicted to Huffington Post, but now I read Pollster.com, it’s a bit more level headed and more geeky about the polls.


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