"So...what's this girl's name again?"
As the train rattled under our seats, I looked across the row to my friend, who was fixing her makeup after the 13 hour train ride.
"Elisabeth. And she is SUCH a sweetheart! You will love her!"
"So you met her..."
"Last week in Barcelona. We hung out for the whole day!"
I couldn't believe that I had hopped on a train and was traveling to Austria--with no itinerary, no plans, and only a backpack full of rolled up clothes and the knowledge that I was going to be living with some person I had never met and my friend barely knew.
"Well, she said if we were ever in Austria to come see her," my friend said, smiling. She wasn't nervous. So should I be?
We met Elisabeth as we got off the train. I had expected to meet a fellow student, who was studying abroad in Austria and had met my friend on a weekend trip to Barcelona. But, no. Elisabeth was an Austrian--born and raised in Salzburg, working in Vienna.
She opened her doors to us, letting us stay in her small Viennese apartment. She had gone grocery shopping and stocked her fridge for us, laid out fresh towels, and gave us her bed (she slept on an air mattress on the floor). I wasn't used to this kindness from strangers--especially in Italy, where it is against the law to have someone stay the night!
We spent the entire weekend in Vienna, touring the palaces, museums, churches, and opera houses. I had traditional boiled beef and potatoes, Viennese cakes, and a "hot pot"--a make-your-own Chinese food concept!
You can read about my trip in detail here, at this article I published for Flonthego.com: http://www.flonthego.com/2015/lifestyle/03-03/vienna-a-city-of-grandeur/
The Austrians were VERY friendly; much friendlier than the Italians. You could easily see that the Austrians cared more about establishing friendly relationships with tourists, and didn't mind that people wanted to see their beautiful country. They were proud of their heritage, as are the Italians, but didn't boast their superiority.
Elisabeth was very curious about American culture. She would serve us cream cheese, bread, and tea, and while we ate she would ask us question after question, all the while shoveling more food onto our plates. Did we watch "Good Morning, America"? Did we like shows with Charlie Sheen? How did the Americans view immigration? How did America's welfare policy work?
As we answered her questions, we asked her the same. Apparently, Austrians enjoy American shows such as "The Big Bang Theory", "Gilmore Girls", "Grey's Anatomy", and so on. Guns are illegal in Austria. All dogs in public have to be muzzled. They don't dislike immigrants, but are experiencing higher crime rates and are trying to find peaceable ways to address it. The Roman Catholic Church puts a tax on Austrians who identify with the Catholic religion.
She was very interested in our political views. She asked several times about the Republican/Democrat divide, and my friend and I carefully answered her questions, trying not to reveal which end of the spectrum we placed ourselves. We didn't know each others' political views, as we didn't want to risk causing detriment to our friendship. However, one day, on the metro, Elisabeth began talking politics again. She looked at us and said, "So are you two on the same team?" (I loved how she worded things--several times we had to fish out a thesaurus so we could communicate!)
My friend's eyes grew about twice in size. We froze in silence. Finally, we both started laughing.
"What's so funny?" Elisabeth asked.
"I guess, in America, you don't really talk about it unless...there are situations where you would have to..." I said, laughing.
Elisabeth looked confused. "Well, why not?"
"We don't know!" my friend said, still laughing.
We discussed America's views on politics, how media presents biased viewpoints, how stereotypes arise based on what party you affiliate with. Elisabeth was fascinated with our way of life--from our language, to our food, to our politics. And, in living with a stranger (who very quickly became a friend) and being able to tour a foreign city with a local, we learned a great deal about the Austrian way of life, too!