World class: A half-year in Vienna

Ashley Muller of Wellesley College on Hvar island in Croatia. Ashley Muller of Wellesley College on Hvar island in Croatia.
October 18, 2009

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Ashley “Ley’’ Muller, a senior at Wellesley College, was struck by the dietary habits of fellow students and other Austrians during her spring and summer at the University of Vienna, where she studied comparative welfare systems. (Muller is majoring in political science and German with an interest in housing policy.) “Austrians drink beer, eat pastries, and live on processed meat, yet they aren’t fat,’’ she observed. “It’s fascinating.’’ She did develop a soft spot for bakeries, but came to yearn for one American culinary touchstone: “normal yellow mustard.’’

GET THEE TO A DORM: “Everyone tries to get in the dorms because they charge about half the rent of normal Viennese apartments, so it was a pretty good mix. My two closest friends were tech students from Slovakia.’’

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: One strange bit of social etiquette involves “beginning an e-mail by calling someone the most titles you can think of: ‘Dear highly esteemed Mrs. well-educated well-respected Doctor Professor, I will be missing class today.’ ’’

DUNKINSACHERTORTE: “Bakeries are a big part of the culture, on par with Dunkins for Boston. My favorite part about oversleeping and having to run to class is that it justified a speedy stop at the nearest one.’’

LIFE, NOT A TEST: The coursework is “completely doable. . . . School isn’t all-encompassing; it’s not your whole life. Of the friends I made, all worked part-time jobs in the fields that they planned to enter, all took vacations, all had their own apartments and lives. It’s a much more balanced and healthy attitude.’’

FEEL-GOOD PLACES: “Heurigens are really popular, these relaxed, outdoor, terraced places where you go as a group, buy the season’s newest wine by the jug, and don’t leave before 3 a.m.’’

STRUNG ALONG: ’’Everyone was enraptured by this show called the ‘European Song Contest,’ won by this Norwegian kid playing the violin while a few men danced a traditional Norwegian dance. . . . It was the complete opposite of the otherwise high commitment to European style.’’

ONE TURK, HOLD THE MAYO: “Vienna has a ton of Turkish immigrants. In my first trip to the store, I very carefully asked for 200 grams of turkey. After one glance at the mortified deli-woman’s face and promptly fleeing the store, I realized I had politely ordered a Turkish man. Two-hundred grams, and thank you.’’