We are sitting around a plastic table in a smoke filled room. The ceilings are high—old Vienna architecture—and the chatter loud. Deep Purple spins into the air, black wax in the corner of the room, just one record out of a box retrieved by our new German friend. His grandfather had them from back in the day. This is his room, one of four in a large flat in the second district of the city.
As I sit there and listen to the German banter, not really understanding a single word, I am reminded of how similar this all feels. I mean, there are hundred year old buildings just outside, the beer is almost twice as large as normal, and everyone has a strong mixture of love-contempt for American (read, my) culture, but I feel at home.
You see, these are students, University kids that live in Vienna: a cool modern hub of life, music and culture. Also, by chance, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. No big deal.
I sip my abnormally large beer and decline a plastic cup filled with purple juice. They had a housewarming party and ended up with a lot of leftover alcohol they needed to kill. We met these people through Couchsurfing, a more direct route to random chance, and subsequently were invited to hang out for hours, drink, and shoot the shit. Now, when I try and do those things in German, it can get a bit strange. At one point one girl, disappointed with my pronunciation of Kunsthistorisches Museaum (not exactly easy), decided to scream the syllables at me, with a hard hand-chopping motion, until I said them right. Minor woes of the essentially illiterate traveler.
In Austria I learned a few specific things.
- First—there are a ton of Germans here. We asked around and it turns out Austrian schools are cheaper and easier to get into, while the German ones are expensive and filled with semi-local immigrants. Strangely familiar, no?
- Second—everyone speaks English. This is not true in all the world, not all of Europe, and definitely not true everywhere. But for the sake of this article, in Austria (and Germany for that matter), everyone speaks English. So they understand our questions when asked, can pause in a fit of laughter to explain the joke, and still carry on in their daily life. They appear incredibly smart to me for this reason, but most just brush it off.
- Third—every place I go, specifically this bedroom with this music and that kind of smoke, I find myself feeling similar. This does not mean American culture is pushing out, enveloping everything in its weird gluttonous sphere, not at all. Rather, that the “global”-ness of the world is real, that students in Austria are like students in California, that twenty-somethings are twenty-somethings no matter where they are. We all like music and good times, WiFi and beer-can-ash-trays.
This particular band of merry-europeans had just gotten back from a critical mass. It was the 20th anniversary of the event for Vienna—so it went on for twenty hours. Partly keeping the earth green, partly drunken bike-parade in the streets of the old city. Sounds like San Francisco to me.
A good way to sum this whole sentiment up (because it’s a real feeling and I don’t want to be taken too lightly): our host, German and trilingual, had a poster in her room. It read “I’ll Do It Soon,” in English. I can’t think of a better slogan to represent my generation’s entire philosophy. Ideas of grandeur and ingenuity come at us from the left and right, we are the future come again, but the present is just too good to make good on any of those brilliant ideas just yet. We’ll get there.