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A Country That Knows How to Live

Before leaving Austria, visitors often feel compelled to write a few lines in the guestbook. Typical comments read: “With this beautiful scenery and mild climate, no wonder you’re all in such a good mood every day.” Or: “You’re not called the cultural center of central Europe for nothing. You really know how to live life.” By “you” they mean the hosts, the locals, Austrians.

The scenery of a region can be very beautiful, the festivals exciting, the lakes crystal clear. But what makes a country truly unique is the people. It’s not just about experiencing a sensational concert in Vienna’s world-famous Musikverein, but also sharing that joyous feeling with a good-natured audience. An inspiring hike in the Tyrolean Alps leaves a lasting impression, when you sense exuberance and contentment in the people you meet on the trail or in the tavern.

As renowned cultural analyst Roland Girtler puts it: Over the centuries, the Austrian has learned to open a generous heart to strangers. He comments on many qualities of the people here—about the easy-going way Austrians interact with others, without being intrusive; of their active involvement in everyday life, which allows you to really experience the culture of this country firsthand; of the way they strive to give guests a unique experience. Indeed, everywhere in this country, you find a welcoming warmth and gracious hospitality. Whether with a farmer in the Wachau or a waiter in a café in downtown Vienna. With a vintner in southern Styria, a chef in a Tyrolean hut or a charming hotelier in Salzburg.

We shall celebrate, whenever there’s a reason for celebration, we often say here. It seems as if every day’s a celebration. It might be the apricot harvest in the Wachau or relaxing and reading the newspaper in a coffeehouse in Vienna; working in the vineyards, watching the sunset over the Tyrolean mountains, or strolling through the historic old town in Salzburg.

In Austria, enjoying life’s pleasures comes naturally. Visitors can’t help but feel it. Hosts exude a good mix of charming politeness and old-school formality, the easy feeling of ‘live and let live’ and entertaining conversation. Austrians are known for engaging people, be it with typical Viennese humor (always with a wink) or heartfelt sincerity. Don’t worry if you don’t get the joke. Just crack a little smile—and Austrians are satisfied, happy.

But don’t misunderstand: Austria is no “Island of the Blessed.” There are the same everyday concerns as in any other country, only here life’s hardships are in perspective. People complain here, too, but don’t dwell on it. As the cabaret performer Hugo Wiener once said so well: Life is a tragedy—made up of many comedies. In Austria, we prefer the comedies, the finer things in life. A country that knows how to live, you could say.

To be honest, at first you may doubt this “ideal world,” then eventually you’d probably be jealous. Back home, in your daily routine, wouldn’t it be wonderful to let go and relax? But jealousy never got anybody far. No, you should simply be inspired. If two weeks of vacation stay with you, they have served their purpose. The feeling of joie de vivre and laid-back, natural ease in this country is exactly what you can bring home and enjoy long after your vacation.

No wonder, then, when the guestbook reads: “We’re heading home with tears of joy and sadness. Joy, because your zest for life has so rejuvenated us. That we take with us. And sadness, because we won’t see you for a couple of months. But be warned: Next summer, we’re coming right back.”
 

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