While living in Vienna, you must never cross the street without a walk signal. This rule applies even if you’re the only person for blocks and there’s no traffic. If you walk without a signal, a polizei will appear and give you a ticket for 80 euros. Or so I was told. I never saw this happen, and was only brave enough to test the law on small streets by myself because every Viennese native stands on deserted street corners waiting for the crosswalk sign.
The fear of being ticketed for jaywalking seemed particularly strange when I walked through Karlsplatz. It’s an underground mall meant as a safe bypass under a giant intersection near the . It is infested with druggies who stay in the sheltered area to smoke, drink, do drugs, and let their dogs nip at passersby.
Most of these people have blue lips, like they’re dying from hypothermia. This phenomenon is caused by the strange mixture of NyQuil, vodka, and some drug resembling meth or coke—or both. Consumption induces a blue-lipped daze, in which the user shuffles around all day long.
They may light cigarettes, but forget to smoke them, or realize their dog is attacking some helpless tourist. I saw one woman fall down a small flight of stairs and just lie there, moaning. While I weighed my desire to do good against my fear of the hepatitis that potentially lingered under her long, claw-like fingernails, a large Austrian man helped her up.
Another time I saw a couple of blue-lips shuffle right into a giant polizei who was monitoring Karlsplatz to make sure things didn’t get violent. Realizing their mistake by the abrupt wall of muscle and bullet proof vest, they turned a perfect 180 and shuffled off the way they had come. Why didn’t they get arrested or ticketed? Because the problem is too far gone to fix. Thus, the cops make their money off jaywalking tickets and subway fines.
Another quirk of Vienna was the shopping carts at the market. You had to pay a twenty-five, fifty cent, or one euro coin to release a cart. I assumed it was to cut down on the theft of shopping carts, but because of the coin lock’s success I never found out exactly what it was meant to prevent.
All of these little things startled my senses, but the ones that were the hardest to wrap my head around were the ones that most resembled home.
I went to a wine tasting in the Museumsquartier, at a club which was hidden under the Leopold museum. Not hip to Austrian punctuality, we arrived fashionably late, which meant we were just plain late.
We entered the club and were given our wine glasses when suddenly our vision was filled by a milling crowd of yuppies. The women were dressed mostly in black with necklaces of giant stones or African beads, and the men all wore square-rimmed glasses. They stood in groups of two or three talking, probably about art and about the American’s that had just invaded their territory. I couldn’t really understand what they were saying.
I was at a wine tasting, and yes, that is the place where yuppies would be. Why was I so surprised? Because after that night I noticed them everywhere. The yuppies of Vienna. Or, more accurately, the BoBo of Vienna. According to a friend from New York, BoBo connotes an enlightened yuppie, one of the twenty-first century, not the eighties.
I saw the dads in their square-rimmed glasses and fitted jeans walking their golden retriever while pushing aerodynamic baby strollers. I saw them at the gym, exiting the Strassenbahn after coming from work, with their duffle bag of work out clothes. I was training for a half marathon (just like many of them, I’m sure) and would see them at all times of the day changing out from their suits and fancy shoes.
I saw the couples in the Prater, a giant park, walking hand in hand and drinking coffee. Austrians consider drinking coffee on the go to be awkward and unnerving because of the cultural importance of the cafes.
It became a weird game to look for the yuppies, and when I found them, after only a couple minutes of searching, I would feel saddened that an American banality had invaded one of the cultural capitals of the world. The sadness, I think, paralleled the invasion of my childhood neighborhood by the yuppies, who opened boutiques and hair salons and pushed my parents coffee shop out for a Starbucks.
But the most unsettling part was not seeing the similarities to home, but realizing that, as a study abroad student, I had already begun living the yuppie life.