September 2015 will mark the 30th anniversary of my arrival in Austria. At the time I was planning on a semester. That semester extended to a year and after a few years of back and forth between the US and Vienna, I settled here in 1991.
As a US Citizen and an African-American one at that, I am a foreigner here. While I did not grow-up here, this is the city and country in which I have come of age. When I move through town I know where I am going and people ask me for directions. I am a foreigner at home.
Vienna is an exceptionally beautiful city which is kept remarkably clean and well groomed. It has a clear and seemingly unconflicted understanding of itself as a primary tourist destination. The historical buildings, extensive parks and central pedestrian areas remind the locals exactly what part of the economy is paying a good chunk of the bills. Having lived here so long it is easy to forget what a downright marvelous location this is. That’s how it is when you become local – you find faults much more easily than wonder.
At the same time, I didn’t settle in Vienna because of its imperial history or architectural gems. Rather I stayed because of the people I met: the welcome they offered, the interest they showed, the curiosity they shared, the enthusiasm I encountered when I spoke the language. During my first few years here, brown people were not a particularly common sight. I fielded a lot of questions from Austrians about where I was from and how I liked it here “with us” (“Wie gefaellt es Dir hier bei uns?”).
Several years in I found that the question no longer fit. I had somehow outgrown it. When I asked myself I found that my questions had less to do with whether or not I liked it here, rather the emphasis was on what I liked here and what made it evident that I would stay; what made it unlikely that there would be a return “home” (to the US). Small wonder, home was and is right here.
And the “what” that keeps me here? Let me count the ways:
- Vienna is a remarkably safe city.
- It’s clean, tidy and well-groomed to a fault.
- Water and air quality are impeccable.
- City services are numerous and work reliably well.
- Public transportation deserves awards – it’s extensive, user-friendly and affordable.
- City-run early childhood care (Kindergaerten) stands out as child-centered, family-friendly and simply well-planned.
- Health care is guaranteed.
- The city has green spaces large and small throughout and is buffered on 3 sides by the Vienna Woods.
- Cultural offerings are off the charts in terms of quality and variety and access to public museums, concerts and opera is made possible through city support.
- Stores are closed on Sundays (which means that people find other ways to spend their time and money).
- Public education, while traditional, works.
And those are just several external variables that make for an excellent quality of life. Of course, relationships to family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances create the foundation for staying and flourishing here. That said, it seems important to point out those every day conveniences and privileges which contribute to a great life. They are huge blessings and not to be taken for granted.
*Fotos: CC via Pixabay.com