Monday, June 17, 2013

Cultural Differences Between Canada and Austria

I have been asked to write a short paper for my German class listing differences between Austrian and Canadian cultures. I will attempt to be as objective as possible. Given that this is a short paper, I will keep it to points I find to be most relevant.

As I began my search for stats to support my arguments, I came across Canada's Centre for Intercultural Learning. Where has this page been during my whole time in Austria? First off, I had a solid giggle when the page suggested topics that may offend Austrians include the movie The Sound of Music. Though the reasons for it make sense (the von Trapps became wealthy in America while Austrians were rebuilding their country after World War II), the common response from Austrians seems to be "What is the Sound of Music?" (For all of my Austrian friends, see the YouTube video at the bottom!)

A "cold, initial attitude" of Austrians is also something I noticed. Though it must be noted, this is not true of many Austrians I came across in my time here and less prevalent with Austrians who get regular international exposure. While trying to spark a conversation on the bus for example, I often times will receive a blank, confused stare not because of what I am saying, but because of why I am talking to that person in the first place. 

Nevertheless finding someone who speaks English is not very difficult. The only people who do not speak English are generally the people I rely on the most: bus drivers and grocery store workers. It is not odd to find a person on your average day who speaks several languages in Austria. However most of the languages tend to be regional (ie Croatian, French, Italian, Hungarian etc) where as in Canada our most commonly spoken languages apart from official English and French are Punjabi and different forms of Chinese. 

Austrians are also much heavier drinkers. The World Health Organization has recorded that an average Austrian over the age of 15 consumes 13.24 litres of pure alcohol annually while Canadians consume approximately 9.77 litres. Given that central European countries have a rich and long tradition in brewing beers (See Reinheitsgebot) and distilling alcohols, this does not come as a surprise. Also, it is legal in Austria to have a glass of wine in a public place (ie sidewalks, parks etc) whereas in Canada it is not. 

Cultural Stereotypes are often a sensitive issue, and the website's analysis is quite interesting: 

"Many Austrians do not distinguish between Americans and Canadians, nuances in language, behaviour and culture are not detected, some believe that Canada is a state of the U.S. and do not know that Quebec is a province of Canada.  This is very similar to the fact that many non-Europeans do not see a distinction between Germans and Austrians. Both cultures are fairly sensitive to not being acknowledged as a unique and distinct culture, this perception can be damaging to relationships on either side. Interestingly, this similar experience and sentiment should offer a great opportunity to connect and build a relationship. Many Austrians feel that North Americans have little culture, or that the culture they have is really what's left of their emigrant ancestors. Some Austrians may also be unaware that there is more to Canada than igloos and lumberjacks."

Though I have not experienced any of this, the vast majority of exposure I received is with Austrians with international experience and international students. 

Vacation time is something that varies substantially as well. There is no shortage of bank holidays in Austria where I would go to school or go to the store only to find out everything is closed because it is a holiday. According to the Centre for Policy and Economic Research, Austria requires 35 days of paid holiday and vacation while Canada sits near the bottom of the list requiring only 10 days. The Austrians seem to hold dear that the job is a means rather than an end, and I like that. It should also be noted that it is not laziness. Depending on which statistic is used (IMF or World Bank), and average Austrian is as wealthy as the average Canadian when assessing Gross Domestic Product (Purchasing Power Parody) per capita.

These are the points that I found most relevant. Despite our differences, I believe there are more similarities. An average young Austrian grew up watching similar cartoons, eating similar food and shopping at similar stores. Although each culture has its advantages and disadvantages, is it clear to me that Canada is in dire need of more Buschenschanks!

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