Wednesday, August 7, 2013

An abrupt end?

Dear readers,

In the summer of 2013, after having lived in Vienna for two years, we returned to our native land.
Therefore, there will be no further posts on this blog.

One final thought:

If you are feeling a bit dissatisfied in life, perhaps your job is boring, perhaps you're living in a crime ridden city suffering from urban blight, perhaps you just wanna do something new- shake up your life a little, something to consider:

It is only when we leap across the hedge to the greener pastures beyond that we have time to contemplate or appreciate what we left behind.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Things that will be missed, Part I: Safety

My wife and I will be returning to the US shortly.  

There are certainly lots of mixed emotions.  This is the second time I have lived in Europe for a period of two years:  last time I lived in Budapest.  This is the fourth time I have lived in Europe total including a study abroad in London and a summer in southern France after undergrad.   
I think I finally realized my love for Europe.  I really love the cities.  In terms of livability, European cities exceed American ones in every way (with a couple of notable US exceptions like New York, San Francisco).
If you are an EU citizen, European cities are cheaper in terms of cost of living, provide better public transportation, and are exponentially safer than American cities.  

This post will be devoted to the relative safety of European cities compared to American cities.  

Don't get me wrong, Baltimore has some really cool stuff but then there's also the chance you'll be on the wrong street at the wrong time and get stabbed for no reason.  Or more likely shot!    The incidence of violent crime here is not just a little less.  
Here's a chart on violent crime per 100,000 population in the US:
United States
Crime rates (2011)
Crime typeRate*
Forcible rape:26.8
Aggravated assault:241.1
Violent crime:386.3
Motor vehicle theft:229.6
Property crime:2908.7
* Number of reported crimes per 100,000 population.
Source: FBI Crime in the United States 2011

Here is a report by the US State Department on crime in Austria:

 Austria0.656EuropeWestern Europe
This table show Austria, a country with a population of about 8,000,000 people had 56 murders based on this 2012 data.   Compare this with Baltimore, whose murder rate annually tops 365/year and it is a city of only 619, 500 inhabitants according to Google.  

We have been lucky to have friends visit us while we were here.  Also, some friends contacted us to ask about a spouse traveling here for a conference.  All these American friends always asked the same thing, "where are the "bad" areas?"  The reality is there are no bad areas.  As with all cities there are more preferable places to live depending upon your interests in sightseeing, night life, etc, but, at least in Vienna, in the city center there are no dangerous areas (based on an American's sense of danger).  In the two years we have lived here, there were two notable violent events reported in the news here.  One, a woman was raped on the subway, it was a major news story.  Two, there was an armed bank robbery in which someone was shot.  Those are the only two notable violent events in two years.

We, as Americans, are so used to expecting bad areas in cities that we cannot imagine a safe city.  This is SOOOOOO SAD!  It makes me sad to think many Americans believe, 'cities are dangerous, that's how they've always been, that's how they are across the globe.'  Sure, you could get pick pocketed here in Austria like anywhere else.  You could accidentally get hit by a bus, tram, car, or biker.  BUT....
I have lived in four European cities over the past 15 years of my life and have walked around every one of them in the middle of the night.  I mean dark, unpopulated streets in the middle of the night.  Without fear!  

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Good Eats in Vienna

Been living in Vienna for over a year and a half so thought it appropriate to share some of the culinary gems we've found or been introduced to.

1.  Vietnamese- Saigon Restaurant

2.  Thai- Bangkok Vienna

3.  Italian- Il Mare
no website
Pizzeria Il Mare
Zieglergasse 15, 1070 Wien, Österreich

*Authentic because shortly after we arrived for lunch, a couple of Italians were seated and had a lively discussion with the waiters in Italian.  
I started with a delicious, hearty minestrone soup.  For a main course I had one of the best lasagnes of my life. 

4.  Traditional Austrian/Viennese - Gmoa Keller

5.  Austrian/ Carinthian - Gelbmanns Gaststube

6. Sushi-Bar Mono

I'll keep updating the list with delicious yumminess as we find it.
Also, here's another blog about food in Vienna, called sushi and strudel: 
The tagline is: "There's more to Vienna than schnitzel"

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Life, in some ways, is much cheaper here-

Life, in some ways, is much cheaper here-

When I first moved here, I wrote a post about our expenses and came to the conclusion that life costs about as much here as it does in the US.  I'd like to revisit the cost of living, focusing specifically on mobile phone plans for this blog entry.   

Back in the US, my monthly cellphone bill through AT&T was about $80/month.  What services did I receive for this price?  I received a set number of call minutes and text messages per month: around 200 text messages.  It's harder to determine my monthly minutes because my plan included rollover minutes so that, to me, I had unlimited call minutes.  In the US, there are two main cell phone providers:  AT&T and Verizon.  There are some smaller competitors as well but it is widely assumed they don't provide as excellent network coverage as the main two. 

Here in Austria, our monthly plan costs 13 Euros per month.  It includes 1000 call minutes and 1000 text messages.  There seem to be more competing companies for your business here than in the US as described in the following website:

There are many providers in Austria (quite likely more than you would expect in such a small country):
·       A1: The formerly state owned mobile provider. It is said that they still offer the best coverage and good quality service. However – if you have to call their agents, be prepared for a long wait on hold.
·       Orange: The second largest mobile network provider. Orange claims to offer best voice quality and has special offers for European roaming services.
·       Tele-ring: The discount provider. Almost bankrupt but they are aggressively attacking the bigger providers.
·       T-Mobile: Former max.mobil has good network coverage and cheap prices. Many Austrians use this network.
·       3: This is the company Hutchinson. They are pursuing the multimedia approach and sell only UMTS handsets. Rates within the 3 network are very cheap, but calling to other networks can be costly. Check the details of your contract!
·       Yesss: The newest discount provider has caused a lot of turmoil by giving hints on their website how to unlock your SIM card and use their service. Good rates but (as it is said) bad service when you need their assistance.

Note:  As this article is slightly outdated (June 2009), there is another provider "BOB" which was left off of the list. 

Personally, we use Tele-ring mainly for the reason that their in-shop clerks usually can speak English. 

Generally, a poll among our friends here has shown that most have plans with 1000/1000 minutes and texts per month (or more) and no one pays more than 20 Euros per month.  Some how a country of 8 million people are able to provide an extensive cell phone network along with affordable, competitive cell phone packages at a much, much lower per month cost than the US. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

An entry on doing laundry written by other American ex-pats

Here's an interesting entry from a blog on life in Vienna written by some Americans who have lived here since Aug. 2010:

March 4 -- Revelation! I’ve figured out why the Viennese and other Europeans smoke and drink so much, sometimes smell of body odor, and refuse to pick up the dog poop from the middle of the sidewalks. Laundry! They’re so tired of the work required to wash and dry their clothes, they smoke and drink to relax, sometimes wear dirty clothes (it can take days for some items to dry), and simply don’t care if the public sidewalks are shitty – let somebody else do it.

Our laundry saga continues, and, yes, I know this is petty, but missing in an expat’s life are opportunities to vent – which might also explain the lack of dryers.

Three weeks after our washing machine died, I’m boiling laundry in a kettle on the stove, which consists of two small burners and no oven. I’m convinced the kitchen towels have
become bacteria breeding grounds and need to be sterilized.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

10 Myths about working in Europe

An excellent article from the Vienna Expat Center.  Just to put in my two cents.  We have been very lucky in that Rachel has friendly, supportive Austrian colleagues.  In addition, our landlady has kindly opened her doors by inviting us to eat with her family on several holidays and has been generally very helpful.  Furthermore, my colleagues and especially my principal at Astrid Lindgren school are always offering suggestions on things to do and see in Austria... and being very patient with me.
So we have had it easier than most.  I have met expats here who have said they lived here for two years before ever getting an invitation to an Austrian's abode.

So there are two sides to every coin.  With regards to the below myths, I would like to add:

  • Expect the first 8 months, not 6, to be confusing, lonely at times, and generally disorienting.  
  • If you are planning to make this move alone, especially to a country where you don't speak the local language, think twice!  Having a spouse with me on this adventure has provided much needed moral support.
  • If you are planning to live in a country where you don't speak the language, think twice!  It is even more difficult to find a job without a functional knowledge of the language.  
  • If you are planning to move without first having a job, think twice!  We count our lucky stars I was able to find something.  
  • The article recommends 10 books to read, I would estimate more like 30-50.  In the past 8 months, I easily averaged a book a week.
  • As far as moving overseas for material wealth, unless you are being moved by a multinational company and getting paid in a stronger currency than the local Euros, most moves abroad will not be more lucrative.  However, I do agree with the statement that living abroad is culturally enriching.
  • Do your homework before moving abroad!  For example, we were surprised upon arriving in Vienna to learn of the laws re: real estate agents and renting apartments.  Specifically, if you must rent an apartment through an agent, there will be some exorbitant fees.  Just as in the United States, you will need to pay the first month's rent.  In addition, there is a deposit which might be equivalent to 2-3 months' rent.  Moreover, the real estate agent will charge a commission ranging from 1-2 months' rent.  In the worse case scenario, the day after you sign your rental contract, you will be expected to pay the equivalent of 6 months' rent.  I am still shocked by this system and find it ridiculous that this city has upfront rent requirements similar to New York City, arguably one of the most expensive places to live in the world.  Anyway, this would have been an important fact to know before venturing abroad. 

In the end, I used to wonder in this world of shrinking borders why more people don't live abroad?  I think this experience has highlighted the fact that living abroad is not a decision to be made lightly.  Unless you have an incredibly lucrative offer with your current employer or you meet the love of your life who happens to be from the country you're moving to, you should really thoroughly research before moving abroad!

For example, a good alternative to living abroad would be to enroll in a language course in your target country for a month or two.

Ten Myths about Working in Europe

It’s 11:30 PM somewhere in the United States. You’re sitting at your desk with a big deadline looming. You haven’t taken any of your allotted two-week vacation this year, and you dream of having champagne in a Parisian café with your lover. (Or you’ve recently been mugged and wonder whether there’s a safer place to live.) You ask yourself, “Is this where I really want to be? You take a break and check Facebook, LinkedIn, and job postings on the Internet to see what’s new. You notice a job ad for a European assignment. Just the change you want.

STOP! Don’t make any decisions without reading the ten myths of living abroad.
These reality-checks will help you take a hard look at your reasons for wanting to move.

Myth 1: If I don’t like the job, I can always find another.
This is true…as long as you’re ready to move back to the United States. The fact is, if you’re in a job overseas for a few months and discover that you don’t like your boss, your values aren’t in sync with the company culture, or the job isn’t what you thought it would be, it isn’t so easy to job hop in Europe as it is in the United States. You’ll be more dependent on the company that moved you, so you may have to figure out how to get your own visa, negotiate for a move back earlier than agreed, or stick it out and make it work.

Myth 2: Everything will work out well.
Even if you are the world’s biggest optimist, the changes you’ll experience living and working in Europe could be greater than you’ve ever imagined. There will be some sad days, especially in the first six months. Bring lots of stationery, ten books you’ve been wanting to read (remember, there won’t be a lot of TV in English), and a new journal. (Plan a trip to Italy in your first month to purchase a leather-bound journal!)

Myth 3: I’ll be much happier when I get away from __________ (fill in the blank: spouse, friends, family).
The folks you think you need a break from may prove to be your biggest asset. They’re your current support system, and they can make or break a successful transition to living in another country. These are the people who’ll answer the phone when you forget about the time difference and call at 4 AM. These are the people who will send you a birthday card because they know it will cheer you up. These are the friends who will let you stay with them when you visit the United States. And, perhaps most important, these are the people who will come to visit you to admire your glamorous new European lifestyle.

Myth 4: My life will be simpler in Europe. Some things won’t change in Europe, such as cleaning your own apartment, buying milk, and getting to work on time. What simplifying changes can you expect? (1) If you’re used to two incomes, and your spouse accompanies you abroad, plan to live on one salary. It will be very hard for your spouse to find a job. (2) You won’t have to clean a big house. You may be used to living in a big house with a deck, but expect to rent an apartment in the city. (3) You’ll have your evenings free to do other things besides shopping. Shops are not open 24 hours a day and most shops close between 6 PM and 7 PM. (4) You’ll most likely have to get used to living without a car—the cost of gasoline alone will make owning one prohibitive. (5) If you can’t live without your cell phone, don’t worry. Europe is far ahead of the U.S. in this regard! So be prepared to upgrade.

Myth 5: I’ll see all of Europe, inexpensively. It is true that (depending on where you live) it will be easy to take the overnight train to Venice or the two-hour flight to Rome. But will you always have the time and the money to travel? Don’t forget that you’ll most likely have a demanding job. The bright side is that you’ll probably have around five weeks of vacation time each year. Travelling within Europe can be very reasonable if you use inexpensive airlines (there are now a few) and last-minute open flights. However, in some respects, it can be just as expensive to travel in Europe as in the U.S.

Myth 6: I’ll get that “European experience,” return to the United States, and triple my income.If getting rich fast is your first priority, forget about living and working in Europe. Moving to Europe is about getting rich culturally. Be prepared to make some financial compromises. First, expect to be paid in the local currency, but don’t expect to earn the equivalent of your U.S. salary. Second, be careful if you have debt. Fluctuations between the U.S. dollar, the euro, and other European currencies mean you may either gain or lose U.S.-dollar buying power. If you have a lot of debt and have to make monthly payments, relocating could be a huge gamble. Every time the dollar grows stronger, you’ll feel like you’re taking a pay cut.

Myth 7: Living in Europe will be a great experience for my spouse and kids. Be sure to talk first with your sweetheart. Your spouse or partner will most likely go from being employed to becoming unemployed. (Of course, one could be tempted to travel if the time spent abroad were described as a sabbatical.) Couple this with the fact that your emotional reactions will be significantly amplified. This could produce some interesting arguments following questions such as “Whose bright idea was it to move?” Don’t assume a move will be easy for your kids, either. Children under the age of five should be able to learn the local language quickly. But if they’re older, the adjustment could be tough. Also, navigating the school system and hospital emergency room procedures will be difficult for you and your spouse without the local language skills. It usually takes about six months to get acclimated in Europe. Expect to double the time if you’re going with your family. (This projection includes dogs and cats.)

Myth 8: I’ll learn a new language or just brush up my French. Be prepared to feel illiterate and dysfunctional for a while in your new environment. Take language classes during your first six months no matter your level of fluency. This schedule will cut into your free evenings and weekends. However, if you make the effort, knowing and using the local language will significantly influence the quality of your life and make your stay richer. Imagine being able to read Goethe in his native language or to understand inside jokes about the local culture.

Myth 9: I’ll make lots of new and interesting friends. Do you make friends easily now? If not, making friends in a different country will undoubtedly be harder, because you won’t know the language and the local customs. (Try telling one of your favorite jokes in a language you don’t speak fluently and watch how people respond.) However, friends will be more important than ever before. You’ll need them to water your plants or take care of your pet while you’re gallivanting all over Europe. (See myth 5.) In all seriousness, however, life in a different country can be pretty lonely in the beginning. You’ll need extra savings to pay for high transatlantic telephone bills–don’t assume all your friend use Skype–until you make friends locally. And that fact leads to myth number 10.

Myth 10: I’ll meet the person of my dreams. Do you have visions of meeting a count or countess and living the rest of your life in a castle? European men and women have their idiosyncrasies, too, and they may not have read Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. Europeans may have a tendency to give flowers more frequently, and they can charm you with their accents. But building a romantic relationship will not be any easier.

How many of these myths do you believe? If your score is five to ten, visit Europe only on vacation. If it’s three to five, you may want to consider spending a few months in Europe before making the leap. If it’s one or two, then answer that job ad right now, and good luck! Get ready to pack up and start a new life. And e-mail me when you arrive.

Victoria (Vici) Koster-Lenhardt is a communications consultant and thought leader based in Vienna, Austria. She has worked for The Coca-Cola Company, the New York Times, and the Hearst Corporation. An active volunteer, Vici formed a non-profit organization for Central and Eastern Europe for The Society for Technical Communication and was also a board member. A native U.S. citizen, she has been living and working in Austria for 25 years. You can reach her at

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Foreign Encounters: Part 1

Foreign Encounters:  Part 1

The other night, I was in a British-style pub (complete with doubledecker London style bus monument just outside) talking with a Norwegian guy. 

The trial of the mass murderer Anders Breivik has been covered here extensively.  For those who don't know who he is?  Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia:
Anders Behring Breivik (Norwegian pronunciation: [ˈɑnːəʃ ˈbeːɾɪŋ ˈbɾæɪʋiːk]; born 13 February 1979)[1] is a Norwegian accused mass murderer[5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12] and the confessed perpetrator[13][14] of the 2011 attacks in Norway. On 22 July 2011, Breivik bombed the government buildings in Oslo, which resulted in eight deaths. He then carried out a mass shooting at a camp of the Workers' Youth League (AUF) of the Labour Party on the island of Utøya where he killed 69 people, mostly teenagers.[15][16][17]

I asked this Norwegian friend about the trial.  The discussion turned to the maximum sentence he could receive.  The news had reported the maximum sentence would be 21 years in prison. 

As an American, this short short sentence was shocking.  We then talked about how depending upon what state (in the USA) the mass murder was committed in, Breivik might face the death penalty.  No European nation imposes the death penalty.  Although I have since found out that Austrian murderers could possibly be sentenced to life in prison. 

This Norwegian friend mentioned that new research states the death penalty is not an effective deterrent to murder as its proponents claim.  One argument, for example, is that criminals do not have enough knowledge about the different capital punishment laws in different states. 

I then went on to state that, in all likelihood, even if he was convicted in a non-capital punishment state, he would likely receive back to back life sentences amounting to several hundred years. 

A follow up conversation about this topic yesterday with an Austrian journalist revealed the following:
Quite recently, there have been peaceful demonstrations in Oslo against Breivik.  The Prime Minister, their head politician, has actually gone on the record to tell the Norwegian people that this must be a time of tolerance. 

Here is an AP article regarding demonstrators singing songs as a sign of solidarity.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Modern Medicine vs. Traditional Chinese Therapies

Modern Medicine vs. Traditional Chinese Therapies                  

One of the ironies of life in Europe is that although there is a universal health care system here, some Austrians opt for Traditional Chinese Therapies to heal their ailments as opposed to modern medicine. 
I have been advised to go visit a Chinese doctor to whom I would have to pay perhaps several hundred Euros out of pocket.  Please bear in mind monthly installments are being deducted from my paycheck for the universal health care system. 

Interestingly, I found this article online.  Apparently Australian border officials seized powders, flakes and other component ingredients used in these traditional Chinese concoctions.  Then a lab ran some tests presumably to answer the question:  What the heck are in these things? 

In the end, the article reports, the samples contained:
"A host of potential toxins, allergens and traces of endangered animals showed up in DNA sequencing tests on 15 Chinese traditional medicines, researchers said on Thursday."

FYI to those in Austria who utilize traditional Chinese medicines.

Full article is available here: 

 Source of article AFP= Agence France Presse, the French equivalent of the AP =Associated Press