I won’t ever forget the day I taught stereotypes to my Austrian high school students. We had a list of things on the board to describe Americans (fast food, fat, patriotic…ahem), and then it was time to lay down some ideas about Austria.
First, the students stared at me. How are we supposed to know what people think of us? Their eyes blinked. Their heads swiveled back and forth with raised brows, hoping to find someone who knew what I was asking for.
Then, a lone hand.
After that, the list tumbled out—The Sound of Music. Hiking. Skiing. Yodeling. Wiener Schnitzel. Asparagus. Beer. Mountain activities/the Alps. And more.
Then I looked at all the class and blew their minds.
“To be honest, most of the world doesn’t really associate these things with Austria—except Sound of Music.” Then I checked off most of the list. “These things? They’re associated with Germany.”
BOOM goes the dynamite.
My students were pissed. “NO, ALEXANDRIA, THOSE ARE AUSTRIAN THINGS. THE ALPS ARE ONLY AT THE GERMANY-AUSTRIA BORDER. THEY DON’T YODEL IN GERMANY. DO THEY EVEN GROW ASPARAGUS? AND WIENER SCHNITZEL IS FROM WIEN. YOU KNOW, VIENNA? HOW CAN IT BE GERMAN?”
I shook my head. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, the U.S. and most other countries have taken Bavaria’s culture, which was once a part of Austria, as the pillar of German culture and stereotypes. Most of Northern Germany turns up their nose at that, and Eastern Germany is still too busy dealing with its stint as the USSR to notice.
And Austrians hate it.
So I am here to let you in on a little secret. When you think of beer festivals and tents, of hiking or skiing the Alps, or of grabbing yourself some delicious schnitzel—even wurst, you’re dreaming of Austria. And holy cannoli, the country is worth your time and attention. There is no shortage of mountain lakes, friendly people, or beer on a mountaintop, and the Austrians would love to tell you just how Austrian Germany really is.