Austria is one of the safest countries in the world. According to the OECD Factbook of 2006, levels of robbery, assault, and car crime are among the lowest in the developed world, and a study by Mercer ranks Vienna as the 6th safest city in the world out of 215 cities. Violent crimes are extremely rare and should not concern the average tourist. Small towns and uninhabited areas such as forests are very safe at any time of the day.
Beware of pickpockets in crowded places. Like everywhere in Europe they are becoming increasingly professional. Bicycle theft is rampant in bigger cities, but virtually absent in smaller towns. Always lock your bike to an immobile object.
Racism can also be a problem and make your stay an unpleasant experience. Just like anywhere else in Central Europe, there might be instances of glaring, hostile looks, even questioning by the police in big cities like Graz or Vienna is not uncommon. This might make the non-Caucasian audience unwelcome. However, Racism is almost never seen in a violent form. In more remote parts of Austria people of non-white origin are a rare sight. If you see senior locals giving you strange looks here don't feel threatened. They are probably just showing curiosity or a distrust of foreigners and have no intention of doing any physical harm. A short conversation can often be enough to break the ice.
Do not walk on the bike lanes especially in Vienna and cross them like you would cross any other road. Some bike lanes are hard to recognize e.g. on the "Ring" in Vienna and some cyclists drive quite fast. Walking on bike lines is not only considered to be impolite, but it may also happen that you are hit by a cyclist.
Austria has an excellent healthcare system by Western standards. Hospitals are modern, clean, and well-equipped. Healthcare in Austria is funded by the Krankenkassen Sickness-funds, compulsory public insurance schemes that cover 99% of the population. Most hospitals are owned and operated by government bodies or the Krankenkassen. Private hospitals exist, but mainly for non-life-threatening conditions. Doctor's surgeries on the other hand are mostly private, but most accept patients from the Krankenkassen. Many Austrians choose to buy supplemental private health insurance. This allows them to see doctors that don't accept Krankenkassen and to stay in special hospital wards with fewer beds which often receive preferential treatment.
If you are a traveller from the EU, you can get any form of urgent treatment for free or a small token fee that is covered by the Krankenkassen. Non-urgent treatment is not covered. Simply show your European Health Insurance Card and passport to the doctor or hospital. When going to a GP, watch out if the street sign says "Alle Kassen" all Krankenkassen accepted, or "Keine Kassen" no Krankenkassen accepted, in which case your EHIC is not valid. Supplemental travel insurance is recommended if you want to be able to see any doctor or go to the special ward.
If you are a traveller from outside the EU, and have no travel insurance, you will need to pay the full cost of treatment up-front with the exception of the emergency room. Medical bills can be very expensive, though still reasonable when compared to the USA.
Austria has a dense network of helicopter ambulances that can reach any point in the country within 15 minutes. Beware: Mountain rescue by helicopter is not covered by your EHIC, or indeed most travel insurances. If you have a medical emergency while you are in the mountains eg. break a leg while skiing, the helicopter will be called on you regardless of whether you ask for it or not, and you will be billed upwards of â¬1,000. Mountain sports insurace is therefore highly recommended; you can obtain this from your health insurer or by becoming a member of the Austrian Alpine Club. â¬ 48,50 for one year of membership, automatic insurance for mountain search-and-rescue costs up to â¬ 22.000
Certain regions in Austria Carinthia, Styria, Lower Austria are affected by tick borne encephalitis.For those who plan doing outdoor activities in spring or summer a vaccine is strongly recommended. Also be aware that there is a small, endangered population of sand vipers in the south.
Tap water is of exceptional quality and safe to drink in Austria except in some parts of lower Austria, where it is recommended to ask about the water quality first!. The quality of water in Vienna is supposedly comparable to that of Evian.
Austria has a perfect GSM and 3G UMTS network coverage of nearly 100%. If you bring your own cell phone with you assure yourself that it operates on 900MHz / 1800MHz GSM or 2100Mhz 3G WCDMA. There are cell phones that operate at 1900MHz e.g. networks in the United States which are not supported in Austria. If you plan a longer visit in Austria it might be useful to buy a new mobile with a prepaid card from a local cell phone network provider. Be aware that some remote areas especially mountainous areas do not have network coverage yet, though this rather the exception than the rule. Even the Vienna underground lines do have perfect coverage.
Despite being a rather small country, Austria has a large number of cell network providers including A1, T-Mobile, Orange former called One , Drei 3G, Telering, Tele2, Bob and Yesss.
The probably cheapest prepaid mobile providers right now are Bob (http://www.bob.at/) and Yesss (http://www.yesss.at/). A prepaid card costs â¬15 including 100 minutes talking time. Then you pay 6.8 cent per minute to all Austrian networks as of June 2008 and 70 cents to the most important other countries. The Yesss SIM card is only available at the discounter Hofer (http://www.hofer.at). Yesss also sells cheap UMTS data cards that are different from the normal SIM cards. The starter kit includes 1GB traffic and is available for 20 Euro. In order to prevent the SIM card from expiring, you need to recharge it once per year.
If you have an Austrian bank account, you can purchase a registered non-prepaid Bob SIM card. Calls then only cost 4 cent per minute to all other Austrian networks. There is no basic fee and no minimum charge.
The new provider eety (http://www.eety.at) has a prepaid SIM card with very cheap international rates 13 cents to Germany, 9 Cent for Short Messages (SMS worldwide). Online available at www.eety.eu and also sold in a few stores in major towns.
You may often purchase a prepaid SIM card for Austria before you depart from an online vendor (http://www.telestial.com/...) which can be convenient as you get instructions in English and your cell phone number before you depart.
Symbols of Nazism, including material questioning the extent of National Socialist crimes or praising its actions, are forbidden in Austria, under section 3g of the NS-Prohibition Law. The penalty for any kind of neo-Nazism is a prison sentence of up to ten years, or a fine the maximum is â¬21,600. Foreigners are not exempted from this law. This law also covers shouting Nazi paroles like "Sieg heil" and the performance of the Hitler salute.
Swastikas are technically not banned as a religious symbol, though Hindus, Buddhists and Jains should note that you may get awkward stares from the locals if you chose to wear it, as most Austrians are unaware of its use as such. You could also end up being subject to lengthy questioning by the Austrian police
Austrians especially those over 40 take formalities and etiquette seriously. Even if you arethe most uncharismatic person in the world, old-fashioned good manners Gutes Benehmencan take you a long way in a social situation. On the flip side, there are endlesspossibilities to put your foot in it and attract frowns for breaking an obscure rule.
In general, in most of continental Europe, personnel in shops and other services do not show the same level of politeness people from other continents might be used to. You may find for example that a shop assistant tells you off after asking to buy something. In Vienna a cafe isn't considered a real cafe without bad-tempered and arrogant waiters.
Austrians as a people generally "don't like" Germany or Germans at least in the competitive sense and are quite sensitive about it. 80 million to the north in Germany and 8 million in Austria has made this a even more lively rivalry. Don't compare Austria negatively to Germany; you will quickly anger the locals as Germans are seen as over rich bad arrogant driving tourists on a bad day.
Perhaps surprisingly for a rather conservative nation, Austria's attitude towards nudity is one of the most relaxed in Europe. The display of full nudity in the mainstream media and advertising can be a shock for many visitors, especially those from outside Europe. It is not uncommon for women to bathe topless in beaches and recreational areas in summer. Though swimming costumes must normally be worn in public pools and beaches, when bathing "wild" in rivers and lakes is normally OK to take one's clothes off. Nudity is compulsory in Austria'smany nude beaches FKK Strand, health spas and hotel saunas. Like in Germany, do not wear bathing suits into saunas or you garner strange looks.
Some basic etiquette Of course most of this doesn't really matter when you are in a younger crowd
When entering and leaving public places Austrians always say hello Guten Tag or GrÃ¼Ã Gott and goodbye Auf Wiedersehen. When entering a small shop, one should say "GrÃ¼Ã Gott" to the shop keeper when entering and "Wiedersehen" when leaving the "Auf" is normally left off. Phone calls are usually answered by telling your name, and finished with Auf Wiederhören.
Don't raise your voice or shout in public, especially on public transportation. It might be interpreted as aggression. If you are speaking a language other than German, it becomes all the more important to speak quietly in order to not be a "loud foreigner".
When being introduced to someone, always shake them by the hand, keep the other hand out of your pocket, say your name and make eye contact. Failure to make eye contact, even if out of shyness, is considered condescending.
It is a custom to kiss ones cheeks twice when friends meet, except for Vorarlberg, where people kiss each other three times like in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Fake air kisses work to. When you're not sure whether this is appropriate, wait until your counterpart starts the greeting.
When drinking alcohol you don't drink until you have toasted "anstoÃen". Say "prost" or "cheers" and most importantly make eye contact when toasting.
In restaurants, it is considered rude to start smoking while someone on the table is still eating. Wait until everybody has finished, or ask if it is okay with everyone.
If you have drunk all your wine and want more it's okay to pour some more into your glass, but only after you've kindly asked everyone around you at the table if they need any more.
If you really want to show your manners while eating, let your unused hand rest on the table next to your plate and use it occasionally to hold your plate while eating, if necessary. Austrians use generally European table manners, that is, they hold the knife in the right hand and the fork in the left hand, eating with both utensils. It is polite to let your wrists or hands rest on the table, but not your elbows.
In most Austrian households it is customary to take off one's shoes. This is a habit prevailing in most of Central Europe, maybe because of general cleanliness, but also because grit and slush from the pavements can cause havoc to a flat in winter.
Austrians like other Central European nations really love to use honorific titles. Many books have been written on the subject of Austria and its Titelwahn title craze. There are over nine hundred titles from many categories such as job descriptions, academic degrees, honorary titles, official titles, etc.. People who think of themselves as being respectable always expect to be addressed by their proper title, be it Prof., Dr., Mag. Master's, Dipl.Ing. Master's in Engineering, Ing. Graduate Engineer or even B.A. This is especially true for older people. Younger people are generally much more relaxed in this regard. The Titelwahn is something to be aware of but it is also often subject of satire and self-deprecating humour so it should not be taken too seriously. Foreigners are not expected to understand or care about all of it.
In German you should always use the Sie form when speaking with strangers or older people the Du is mainly reserved for friends and family. Younger people generally address each other withDu. Misusing those forms is considered as rude and impolite. However switching between the forms can be very irritating especially to English speaker but when picking the wrong form people will excuse that with your few language skills. In Tyrol the Du form is used more frequently than elsewhere.
The national official language of Austria is German which, in its national standard variety, known as Austrian Standard German Ãsterreichisches (Hochdeutsch) is generally identical to the German used in Germany, with some significant vocabulary differences many of which concern kitchen language or the home and a rather distinct accent. Most Austriacisms are loanwords from Austro-Bavarian, even though languages of the neighbouring countries have influenced as well. Other languages have some official status in different localities e.g., Slovenian in Carinthia, Burgenland Croatian and Hungarian in Burgenland.
Some examples for different vocabulary in Austrian German:
|der JÃ¤nner||der Januar||January|
|der Topfen||der Quark||the curd|
|die Marille||die Aprikose||the apricot|
|die Fleischhauerei||die Metzgerei||the butcher's shop|
|das Obers||die Sahne||the cream|
|die Matura||das Abitur||the school leaving examination|
|der Polster||das Kissen||the pillow|
The first language of almost all Austrians, however, is not German, but instead local dialects of Austro-Bavarian Boarisch also spoken as a first language by many in Bavaria and South Tyrol, Italy, with the exception of in Vorarlberg where it is replaced by Alemannic Alemannisch also the first language of the locals in German-speaking Switzerland and Liechtenstein, plus largely in Baden-WÃ¼rttemberg, especially in the southern parts, and partly in Alsace, France. Both these languages belong to the Upper German family, but are only partially mutually intelligeble to each other and German, and especially in the larger cities almost everyone will be able to communicate in German as well, if only when speaking to foreigners, including Northern Germans. Most Austrians can understand another region's dialect but have the hardest time in Vorarlberg due to the fact that it's Alemannic-speaking.
English is widely spoken, and the only area most tourists have linguistic problems with is in translating menus. Even competent German/Austro-Bavarian speakers may find that they are replied to in English, and it is not uncommon to hear Austrians addressing each other in English! In rural places, however, people older than 50 often don't speak English, so it can help to learn a few basic German or Austro-Bavarian phrases if travelling to such places.
Italian is widespread in the parts of Austria bordering Italy like the Tyrol, even though the majority language on the Italian side except in Bolzano, the region's capital is still German Austro-Bavarian in practice.
In general, when speaking German, Austrians tend to pronounce the vowels longer and use a pronunciation which is regional, yet genuine, elegant and melodic; it is agruably the most beautiful form of German. Also, the "ch", "h" and "r" are not as harshly pronounced as in Germany, making the accent much more mild in nature.
Public phones are available in postal offices. Phone boxes are getting rare and exchanged by boxes with internet access since the use of cell phones got very popular over the last years. Phone boxes usually operate with prepaid cards which can be obtained from postal offices and kiosks German:Trafik.
Phone numbers have an area code followed by the phone number itself. Mobile phone numbers use the prefix 0650, 0660, 0664, 0676, 0699, 0680, 0681 or 0688. Toll-free numbers are denoted by 0800, service lines priced like local calls are setting off with 0810 whereas numbers starting with 0900, 0901, 0930 or 0931 are expensive service lines charging up to 3,63â¬ per minute.
To enjoy cheap international calls from Austria you can use low-cost dial-around services such as pennyphone (http://www.pennyphone.at/), austriaphone (http://www.austriaphone.at/) or fuchstarife (http://www.fuchstarife.at/). Dial-around services are directly available from any landline in Austria. No contract, no registration is required. Most dial-around services offer USA, Canada, Western Europe and many other countries at the price of a local call so you can save on your phone expenses easily. They also work from public payphones.