Customs and habits in Austria

General topics

  • Tips: It is common to give tips to waiters, taxi drivers and hair dressers. Typically the tip amounts to up to 10% of the bill. In general you give tips by announcing the total amount you want to pay, so don’t just leave money on the table and walk away.
  • Cash: You should always bring enough cash. In many bars and restaurants it’s not possible to pay with credit cards. There are many ATMs in the cities, whereas they can be quite scarce on the countryside.
  • Opening hours: Opening hours of stores are strictly regulated. Shops open from Mon-Fri until 20.00, SAT until 18.00. SUN closed. 
  • Dress code: In general there is no dress code for public places. Only in churches and similar places you should cover your shoulders and knees. If you want to visit special events like operas or classical concerts, elegant clothing will be required.
  • Punctuality: Austrians place great emphasis on punctuality, so you will also be expected to be on time. If you are supposed to meet someone at 9:00, then you should be there at 9:00. If it’s not possible for you to show up on time then inform the other person immediately, apologize and give a reason for your delay – especially regarding work.
  • Titles: Many Austrians are very formal. They are often possessed with academic titles; also, it is not common to address strangers and colleagues by their first name in the beginning. So stay formal: if you know that a person has an academic degree use it (especially in emails) unless the person asks you to omit it and use the surname unless the respective person offers you to use the first name (then you can of course drop the title too).
  • Fire alarm: There is a public fire sirens test every Saturday at 12:00pm in all of Austria except in Vienna. Don’t be scared :-).
  • Shop opening times: Most supermarkets are open from Monday to Saturday from 7:30am or 8:00am till 7:00pm or 7:30pm. Most of the other shops are open from Monday to Saturday from 9:00am to 6:00 or 7:00pm. All shops are normally closed on Sundays, there are just a few exceptions - ask in your LC if you need one.
  • Working times: People usually work from Monday to Friday 8 hours per day. Normally work starts between 8am and 9am and ends between 5pm and 6pm (one hour lunch break in between).
  • Meals: Austrians usually have three main meals – breakfast (between 7:00am and 9:00am), lunch (between 12:00pm and 2pm) and dinner (between 6pm and 8pm). Many restaurants offer lunch specials, which are usually quite cheap.
  • Equality: Antidiscrimination laws aim to prevent discrimination on the basis of race, gender, marital status, homosexuality, and physical and mental disabilities. That means amongst others that women have the same rights and opportunities as men and homosexuality is perfectly legal.
  • There are special laws prohibiting National Socialist activities. It is considered an offence to trivialize, deny, legitimate or approve National Socialism. Moreover, it’s not advisable to make fun of Hitler and the NS time in public.
  • Hygiene: Spitting is considered to be very rude, even on the streets. If you need to clear your nose, you should use a handkerchief or tissue. It is against the law to urinate, defecate or to be sexually indecent in public. When using western style toilets you should sit. Here and in most European countries people use toilet paper after using the toilet and flush it. They also clean it if necessary. Sanitary pads or tampons should not be flushed down the toilet.
  • Austria is a very safe and clean country :-). Moreover, it is a is a very well developed country, the living standard is very high. Mobile reception is available almost everywhere. Most modern restaurants and bars offer WLAN for free.

Behaviour

  • GreetingPeople usually shake hands when they meet.
  • Couples often don’t hide their relationship in public. Kissing or holding hands in public is very common.
  • If you talk to people look into their eyes. Averting the eyes is considered to be impolite. In some cultures it is an insult if someone gives you something with the left hand – in Austria it makes no difference. Austrian people sometimes touch others when talking to them but they don’t like it when you stand too close to them.
  • Directness: Austrians tend to be quite direct, which can sometimes seem awkward if you’re not used to it. Don’t be offended when issues might be embarrassing to you, just say “I would rather not talk about that”.
  • Saying thank you: When somebody does you a favour, you’re expected to express your gratitude. You should always say thank you to people (in German: "Danke"), even if they are just doing their job. Unlike in other languages, usually there is no reply to "thank you" (i.e. Austrians will frequently not say "You're welcome" (or "Bitte" in German)).
  • Social invitations: An invitation to a restaurant usually means, “We’d like you to come with us, but we’ll all be paying for ourselves.” Of course, colleagues and acquaintances might insist on paying the bill, but you should not rely on that. Always bring enough money!

Austria is famous for

  • Music: In almost every city you’ll have the opportunity to visit classical concerts, operas,… During summertime there are excellent classical music festivals in many places. In general there are many summer festivals and open air parties during this time.
  • Architecture: The heritage of the former dual monarchy is omnipresent. You can find beautiful romantic and gothic buildings as well as many wonderful baroque masterpieces all over the country.
  • Food: Typical Austrian cuisine is rather substantial, consisting of large amounts of meat, often fried, and sweet dishes. To digest you might well need a Schnapserl (strong distilled alcohol) – at least that’s what the locals will tell you.
  • Clothes: Traditional clothes are called “Dirndl” for women and “Lederhosn” for men. People mostly wear them to entertain tourists, except for the countryside, where traditional clothing is still more common.
  • Alps: You can enjoy natural beauty and diversity in the alps, which spread across many regions – hiking and Skiing in the alps are very popular all over the year.
  • Balls: The most famous ball in the world is the Vienna opera ball. However, there are many other balls in the whole country mostly during carnival time (11.11. - mid of February) or in spring.

Practical advices

  • Water: Tap water has a very high quality. You can use it as drinking water without any risks.
  • International Student Identity Card (ISIC): With this card you often get reductions at cinemas, theatres, concerts, public baths, etc. In general you should always ask if it’s possible to get a student discount.
  • Tickets: It’s sometimes necessary to buy tickets for public transport before the start of the journey. Always inform yourself before you enter a train or bus, otherwise it can be very expensive.
  • Trains: For timetables and other information see www.oebb.at. There is a reduction card for students (“euro<26”) which enables you to travel up to half-prize.
  • Drinking habits: If you’re over 18 you are allowed to drink every kind of alcohol. Before Austrians drink the first sip, they usually raise their glasses and say “Prost” to each other, cling the glasses and look each other in the eyes while doing that.
  • Smokers: You’re allowed to smoke cigarettes from the age of 16. Restaurants usually have to offer a special non-smoking room. If there’s an ashtray on the table you’re allowed to smoke otherwise if there’s no non-smoking sign you’ve to ask whether it’s allowed or not.
  • Important Phone Numbers:
    • Fire department 122
    • Police department 133
    • Ambulance 144
    • First-aid doctor 141

Finally, you should know that in general Austrians are quite liberal and relaxed. Many foreigners live here – that means people are used to other cultures and lifestyles. So normally, you won’t get into troubles if you break one of these rules. Don’t be afraid :-)