Am I am atypical British Expat in Vienna?

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On Saturday I spoke to Rebecca and her husband, who were in Vienna as part of their journey throughout the EU’s 28 Member States – in their project. On this leg of their trip Vienna was part of their route from Germany through Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, before heading on to Malta, Sicily, Italy, Croatia and Slovenia. Part of their project in addition to the interviews with British Expats throughout the UK is also to explore parts of the countries they visit – rather than just a pure capital city hop.Part of their interview with me was to understand what kind of people do take the plunge and up sticks and move abroad, as well as to understand to what extent they consider their “host” country as their adopted home as well as their continuing relationship to their “home” country. I talked quite a bit about Vienna Expats – the website I have been involved with since 2005, and my own personal experience of expat life. Similarly they also wanted to know about to what extent I considered myself as being either European, British or English.

I realise that I am not a typical “Expat” – and I could even question whether having bought property over here and having Austria as the centre of my vital and financial interests, having set up pensions for retirement here, rather than returning to Great Britain, whether I am indeed an “Expat” at all. My immersion into my target culture is more profound than for many – shaped somewhat too my the career that I have forged for myself, based in bastions of the Austrian establishment. I’m not constantly on a desperate hunt for the latest way to stream the latest British series – and with the notable exception of Britwurst or picking up a selection of British cheeses when I go over to the UK, I do not tend to make a point of regularly buying British produce from expat supermarkets, only sporadically visit international bars (I used to have a local bar – or better put a circuit of local bars, but I have come to enjoy the variety of bars in Vienna over having a “local”), and have not turned my home into a British enclave.

While I would maintain that buying property was not the tipping point for my change of seeing myself here for the short-haul or long-haul, it is true that given the relatively speculation-averse nature of the property market here, property is a long-term investment, and that would certainly make me least likely to up sticks completely – although as I point out, such an investment also serves as a backup plan for retirement. As my interviewers concurred also to be the case in Germany, there is a different attitude to property ownership over here – we both compared the seemingly bureaucratic use of notaries and trust accounts that seem to slow down the sales of properties, while no doubt contributing to the hefty ancillary costs of buying and selling a property. Most of all I think my position is summed up by a conversation with a colleague about how frequently I “go home“.

Colleague: How often do you tend to go home?
Me: Daily around 5:30 pm
Colleague: No, no, I mean “back home”!
Me: Daily around 5:30 pm
Colleague: No, you know, to Great Britain?
Me: I go over to Britain usually 2-3 times a year, but usually only to London, and maybe only once a year to the town I was born in. How about you (knowing that the colleague is not Viennese and doesn’t commute from his home town)?
Colleague: I probably go home once a month.
Me: So you don’t consider Vienna home then?
Colleague: I live in Vienna, but its not home.

One of the most telling signs is that I don’t consider myself an expat in the sense that I’ve not got one eye on the next move – as many expat couples have – with Vienna being merely a stop for the here and now and part of the life-long plan prior to ultimately retiring “back home“. Which brings me to real point of this point, namely whether I could live with the possibility of an EU without Great Britain. As with when I came here (then looking for a job in telecomms, I had the fall back of working as a translator), there is a Plan B – namely to take up Austrian citizenship if need be, as I am currently a disenfranchised Brit with no real voting rights in either my home or host nations.

My stall is set up to stay here and retire here – although I would prefer that to be an option that I am able to choose to take rather than it being forced upon me.  For me the situation is particularly difficult in terms of my own personal identity more than anything else – I can appreciate that the 15 year rule ensures that only those with a genuine local link to the country are eligible to vote – for me it is very difficult to vote based on my politics in a constituency that does not represent the vital centre of my life on many local issues.

One element of my politic quandary that I particularly alluded to was in relation to the fact that I disapproved of the approach of some parties “parachuting” in candidates to constituencies – a stance taken by previous Conservative governments trying to retake the Taunton Deane constituency (I refer in particular to the case of Mark Formosa). On a Viennese level it is clear why Adolf Tiller (the forename “dates” him) has been Bezirksvorsteher in the 19th district since the late 1970s – he is very engaged on a local level, and therefore exceptionally difficult to dislodge – meaning that the 19th remains the only real bastion of the ÖVP in Vienna.

For this reason, I vote in local elections and European elections here in Vienna, when the Magistrat hasn’t bungled my Ummeldung (on the last occasion, moving shortly before the election from one ward to another I was missed off the forms), and currently the European elections really are my democratic personal highlight. Sadly though, that is where it ends – I have no say in whether the country whose citizenship I hold will stay in the EU or choose to leave, whilst also being a subject to taxation in Austria without representation.

Author: mdgb

45 years old, came to Austria in 97/98 for nine months and then moved permanently in July 2000. At the time of starting this blog, I have been in Austria for more than half my lifetime.