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Vienna: At the Crossroads 0

By John A. Reviere, ORC

Situated in the northeast corner of landlocked Austria, Vienna serves as an increasingly popular transfer point for commercial transactions--linking the emerging markets of eastern and central Europe with the established business arena of western Europe and the United States. To take advantage of the city's strategic location, some organizations have designated Vienna as their regional headquarters, thus adding to the expatriate population.

Typical of most Austrian cities, Vienna offers pleasant housing, excellent transportation, and ample shopping to international assignees. Playing host to many foreign government and nonprofit agencies, in addition to the multinational corporations, the Viennese are expert at cultivating business and social relationships with international visitors.

Living in the City

Concentric rings encircle Vienna's Inner Stadt, or 1st District, within which lies the city's cultural, business, and shopping center. Each ring encompasses a number of districts, some of which represent the prime expatriate residential areas (i.e., the 1st, 3rd, 18th, 19th, and 23rd districts). Most assignees live in apartments, as houses are rare within the city limits. Many apartments in the older sections, including the Inner Stadt, present a traditional setting with tall ceilings, woodwork, hardwood floors, and special designs on the external structure.

Some expatriates follow the example of their Austrian colleagues and find an apartment near their office in Vienna, along with a place in the countryside to which they can escape on the weekends. For those restricted to a single residence, the 18th and 19th districts provide a relatively easy commute from scenic settings near the Vienna Woods. Residents from these outer districts who leave their homes with snow on their doorstep often find dry sidewalks in the inner city. During the summer months, air conditioning is rare as Vienna's warmest temperatures only reach about 76 degrees F in July.

Situated between the Vienna Woods and the city proper are vineyards and numerous cafes (hueriger) that serve new wine from the most recent harvest and Viennese cuisine. Local and expatriate families frequently meet after work to have supper at these cafes. If there are empty seats at ones table, it is not unusual to find strangers joining you.

Getting Around and About

Regardless of the district in which they live, expatriates generally do not need a car. Public transportation is excellent within the city--whether commuting to work, social events, shopping outlets, tourist attractions, or school (see sidebar, "Vienna's International Schools"). If one prefers, a taxi is easily accessed, though generally used for important business meetings, airport trips, and visits downtown to attend late night theatrical or musical performances. Though the residents of Vienna enjoy a high standard of living with an accompanying low crime rate, one should always use common sense in traveling after hours.

Buses, trams, subways, and rail lines connect the city to the outskirts. A train and bus connection can get you almost anywhere, with a ticket that can be used for transfers as long as the passenger is going in one direction. The Vienna Card entitles the purchaser to 72 hours of unlimited travel by underground, bus, and tram, as well as discounts at many points of interest and vendor shops. Expatriates and their families can take advantage of the many discounted rail programs that provide cultural events along with transportation, cross-country or individual province passes, senior citizen discounts, group fares, free rides for foreign children on designated days, and reductions for return tickets for a distance up to 51 kilometers.

For more distant travel, Austrian Federal Railways provides frequent and reliable direct connections to all European countries. (Austria is bordered by Germany and the Czech Republic to the north; Switzerland, Italy, and Slovenia to the south; and Slovakia and Hungary to the east.)

Shopping in Vienna and Beyond

With such convenience in getting around, expatriates have a variety of shopping sources from which to choose. For example, the 19th district is only an hour away from Hungary (hovercrafts are available), the Czech Republic, and Slovakia; 2 1/2 hours from Germany; and about 3 hours from Italy. The close proximity of Bratislava, Prague, Budapest, Ljubljana, and Zagreb have increased trade between Austria and these cities in recent years, bringing cheaper goods of equivalent quality (with the exception of clothing).

However, expatriates can find most anything they need in Vienna--along with outstanding beer, coffee, wine, pastries, and chocolate. Larger outlets are starting to appear, along with a few major malls. Vienna also has an abundance of open-air markets that typically sell high-quality fresh produce at reasonable prices. Although pricing changes have been relatively predictable in recent years, some prices actually dropped in the early part of this decade when Austria started importing fruits and vegetables from European Union members.

To assist with shopping and care of the home, expatriates often hire maids, who are predominantly Eastern European, Filipino, and Indian. It's not unusual for high-level executives to also employ a gardener or nanny, who may live with the family.

An International Ambiance

With Vienna's increasing focus on attracting foreign investors and maximizing its strategic position in relation to the eastern and central European market, the city is very receptive to expatriates and their families who represent foreign governments, worldwide nonprofit agencies, and commercial enterprises.

Coming together against the backdrop of a pleasant and inviting location, foreign assignees live and work within a culture that prides itself on cordiality and diplomacy (see sidebar, "A Sample of Austrian Customs"). Beyond its strong traditions, Vienna offers so much more to expatriates--attractive housing in a picturesque setting, reliable and modern transportation, plentiful goods and services, and the possibility of long and satisfactory business and personal relationships.

Vienna's International Schools

American International School
Salmanndorfer Strasse 47, A-1190 Vienna, Austria
Telephone/fax/e-mail: 43.1.40132;43.1.401325; director@ais.at
Grades: N-13

Danube International School
Gudrun Strasse 184, A-1100 Vienna, Austria
Telephone/fax: 43.1.6030246; 43.1.6030248
Grades: K-12

Vienna Christian School
Kreilplatz 1/2, A-1190 Vienna, Austria
Grades: 1-12

Vienna International School
Strasse der Menschenrechte 1, A-1220 Vienna, Austria
Grades: pre K-12

Source: The ISS Directory of Overseas Schools 1998-1999, International Schools Services, Inc. Copyright © 1998 International Schools Services, Inc.

A Sample of Austrian Customs

- Tradition and pride are of great influence in the Austrian personality, both socially and in business situations--traditions dating back to the days of the empire live on. An almost courtly cordiality is a hallmark of Austrians, and all relationships are conducted with utmost politeness. Good manners are the behavior by which one is judged--at least initially.

- Greetings are laced with much handshaking, by children as well as adults.

- Austrians rarely ask how you are, unless they have a particular concern for your health.

- Among the behavior considered by Austrians to be ill mannered is the use of the hands for gesturing.

- Verbal communication skills are tantamount to "body language."

- Relationships will take some time to build in Austria, and the aura of politeness may temporarily mask an emerging friendship. Your attempt at speaking their language will help greatly to show your interest. You must not use first names until you are asked to do so. It is considered impolite and forward to do so without an explicit invitation from the other person.

- Women executives are rare. Women representatives of foreign companies will, however, be accorded respect and consideration.

- Business lunches (mittagessen) are more common that business dinners (abendessen) or breakfasts (früestück). Dinners are considered a time for family life. Business dinners are generally reserved for a celebration of a completed deal. A popular place for Austrians to take their foreign guests is to a hueriger, or new wine cafe, in the nearby Vienna Woods.

- Business lunches are popular, and as the guest, you should not pick up the check. However, if you wish to reciprocate the favor, be sure not to invite your Austrian colleagues to a restaurant that is higher-priced or fancier than that to which you were taken.

- If you are invited to an opera or the theater, it is not essential that you return the favor in kind. Austrians look for long-term business relationships rather than immediate sales. Tactics involving a hard-sell approach are generally counterproductive. The pace of doing business is also slower, with great attention to detail. To do business in Austria, you may have to cultivate patience.

- It is best to have your business card printed in German as well as English. At the very least, you should have your title translated into German. Hand a card to any businessperson with whom you meet as well as to his/her secretary or receptionist. When receiving a business card, if there is more than one title, you should ask which one to use. Always use a person's title, as titles are quite important to Austrians.

Excerpted from Craighead's Country Reports, Austria, Craighead Publications Inc. Copyright © 1997 Craighead Publications Inc. Reprinted with permission.

John A. Reviere, the pricing agent network coordinator for Organization Resources Counselors, spent six years in Vienna with his wife and son. For more information about ORC, contact intcomp@orcinc.com.

This article first appeared in ORCs Expatriate Observer.

Organization Resources Counselors, Inc. is a leading international human resources consulting firm headquartered in New York. Serving the business community for 45 years, ORC consultants offer their expertise and research capability to help clients respond effectively to a wide range of human resources management issues and challenges, as well as achieve a competitive edge in the present global economy.

Using the worlds largest database on expatriate compensation and practices, ORC provides more than 1,800 multinational organizations with information on home-country and assignment-location costs. Through a network of worldwide offices, ORC develops and reviews expatriate policies, offers a wide range of data options to meet client needs, and shares information through seminars and participation in numerous roundtables held in North America, Europe, and Asia. ORC also compiles information on employee relations, salary, and policies for expatriates and local-national employees.

For more information, contact ORC at www.orcinc.com or intcomp@orcinc.com.

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First Published: Apr 01, 2001

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