July 2010 Archives

Strč prst skrz krk

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Czech may be the language of most of my ancestors, but unfortunately my grandmother decided to not teach a single word of it to my father, so I am isolated from this potential facet of my cultural heritage. A recent visit to Prague has revealed that most of the language is a total mystery to me. Even after acquiring a few of the quintessential words necessary for survival (e.g. vepřové pečeně), the pronunciation is still something of a challenge. It's not so much the numerous diacritics on the consonants, it's more that the language seems to rely much less on vowels and that the consonants appear in perfectly tongue-splitting combinations, such as in Plch zdrhl skrz drn, prv zhltl hrst zrn or in the sentence that serves as the title for this blog entry and which seems to be famous enough to even have its own wikipedia entry.

They all speak English too. I'm not surprised, considering how many tourists they have to cater for. It would have been fun to hear more of these tourists twisting their tongues while trying to utter something in Czech, but none of them (except myself) did. Cowards. Not that anybody understood much of what I was trying to say, and I also gave up soon enough. I did get the vepřové pečeně and the pivo though.


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The newspapers tell me that the current heat wave in Vienna is caused by hot air from North Africa that is swept into Austria via the Mediterranean. I'm fully inclined to believe this, not only because it's incredibly hot and humid, but also because the air has quite an unusual scent. At the moment it smells of sea water and pine trees in front of my house, just the way it smells in Crete, despite the fact the the sea and the nearest pine trees are several hundred kilometres away.

Zweifelhafte Getränke

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Summary for English readers: A sign at a restaurant offering home-made "beer". Whatever is in it, somehow this doesn't sound too tantalizing.

Soll ich dieses sogenannte "Bier" probieren oder nicht? Kommt wohl drauf an, was es wirklich für ein Getränk ist...

No certificate

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When I took the law exam that was part of my professional training course as a government employee, the examiner asked me what rights civll servants had as opposed to regular government employees. I came up with all sorts of things, from health insurance to pension schemes and whatnot, but he still kept on asking me the same question over and over again. When I finally couldn't think of anything anymore and gave up, he said: "well, the right to use an official title of course."

Any book about Austria will dwell upon the Austrians' obsession with official titles, be it the obsession over academic degrees or titles that denote your status in your profession. Every nation has ranks in their police force and military force, such as sergeants, captains, colonels and so on; in Austria, even civil servants in administrative positions have similar titles. Even though the law regulating civil service did away with the ranks of Kommissär (commissioner) and Rat (councillor) ten years ago, there are still Oberrat (senior councillor) and Hofrat (court councillor) -- the latter despite the fact that the court was abolished along with the monarchy as long ago as 1919.

Anyway, when I was made a full civil servant a couple of years ago, I received a certificate signed by the Minister of Higher Education stating the fact that I was now a civil servant and had the right to use the title Beamter (civil servant), which was nice in principle, but a somewhat anticlimactic title; it was kind of weird that the certificate should even mention it.

Two weeks ago on July 1st, if my maths is correct, I should have been promoted to senior councillor. In fact, the staff database says that this is indeed what I am now. Curiously, I have so far not received any kind of piece of writing confirming it. In a country as obsessed with titles and formalisms, this seems very, very odd. Either they forgot about it, or they're all on holidays already, or - God forbid - they might even have come to their senses.

Whatever the matter, a piece of paper would still have been nice.

In order to survive

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I've lived in this particular part of Vienna for a little over ten years now. It's an urban area, close to the city center, in a district with a Green Party majority, but virtually no green, no parks, and no ponds or other bodies of water.

Up until a few weeks ago, this topographical predisposition has meant that this area was virtually mosquito-free. In fact, I don't think that I've ever had mosquitos in my flat, and I cannot remember ever having been bitten by these pests when sitting outside one of the many cafés and restaurants in the area.

This has changed dramatically. Due to heavy rainfall a few weeks ago, this area is now inundated with mosquitos. In fact it's so bad that you're close to being sucked dry if you leave your house after 6pm without wearing thick layers of insect repellent. Early this morning I woke up from a high-piched buzzing noise next to my right ear. They had arrived in my bedroom.

Today, I mounted a fly screen on my bedroom window and scorched the place with an insect poison that's purportedly harmless for humans (to be on the safe side, I left the room immediately, and then opened the fly-screened window wide to get some of the poison out).

It's as if I was living in the countryside, which is odd in an area without the slightest touch of countryside about it.

In fact, it's a lot worse in the countryside right now. A colleague of mine at work told me he hasn't been able to sit on his balcony even once this summer; first because it was so cold, then because of the heavy rain, and now because of the mosquitos.

My own complaints seem to pale in comparison.