Sunday, December 9, 2012

Politicians and Turkeys Abroad

The Christmas markets are open in Vienna, the streets are glowing with decorations, it is 25 Celsius and snow and ice cover the ground. In other words, we’re once again way behind with this blog.  So, to clear the way for the Christmas season, this is a quick update on recent events … mostly the election, with a nod to Thanksgiving.

Because Misti and I now reside in that part of the political spectrum that is beyond blue, we are considered by some to be radically liberal.   Not SDS members, mind you, but progressive to the point of annoying people who aren’t.   We really haven’t shifted much over the years, but the spectrum has.  Such is life.

 Illegal in Austria
With that as context, it was interesting to be a political junkie following the Obama/Romney contest from an ancient city that is the jewel of a “socialist” country that is part of a gaggle of socialist countries called Europe.  It is difficult to define socialism if you live in a godless, yet heavily Catholic, country with a “radical” green party that regularly bumps heads with a right-wing party that would give away Adolf Hitler bobble-head dolls at campaign rallies if they were legal.  The government here, despite all of those cursed socialists, is remarkably democratic, although more parliamentary than most Americans would feel comfortable with.  

The Viennese, as we have mentioned several times, are mostly grumpy people, despite living in what is constantly rated as the most livable city in the world.  A shopkeeper told us last week that the Viennese even have a word that describes their unique brand of whining about life.  It was an Austrian/German word we hadn’t heard before and can’t remember.

The shopkeeper is Viennese and was making fun of himself, but he said he only learned to appreciate his hometown after working as a chef at a game preserve in South Africa.  “You must have seen a lot of interesting things,” Misti said. “Only pots and pans,” the chef said.  “My family saw a lot.  I was working.”

But upon returning to Vienna, he saw the city anew and now doesn’t whine . . . or at least he smiles when he does it. Which has nothing to do with the election except for a lesson in perspective.  I’m not sure what the lesson is, but it is there, somewhere. 

A European Favorite 
And for a little more perspective and context, an American colleague at work asked a group of scientists over lunch in the schloss what they thought of Obama.   The scientists, from countries across the globe, supported Obama, although they all expressed disappointment that he didn’t get more done.  They couldn’t understand why someone like Romney was doing so well.  That view was common here and is tied to Republican positions on science, energy development, human rights, migration, reproductive rights … all the stuff that drives the right wing people in the US to call Europeans socialists, as if that were an automatic insult.

There was an exception.  A scientist from Poland was angry at Obama because the president apparently promised at some point that he would change the visa policy toward Poland so it would match the policy the US has toward Western Europe.  Obama didn’t do it, and the Polish researcher wouldn’t support him as a result.  He said many Polish Americans wouldn’t either.  Wonder if the Republicans knew.

We chronicled a couple of blogs ago our “Swinging for Obama” night of blues and rock at the Metropol nightclub.  That great night was sponsored by the Austrian chapter of Democrats Abroad, a group of volunteers whose main task was to provide information and web links that, for us, made voting in Virginia rather straightforward.

Hotel Regina
 After the fun night at the Metropol we attended a debate watch event at the elegant Hotel Regina near our old apartment.  This was the third debate, and given time differences, the gathering was actually the day after the live debate in the hotel's basement meeting room. As we’ve noted many times in this blog, ugly history lurks just below the surface in Vienna, and the Regina is no exception.  It served as the illegal headquarters of the Austrian Nazis as they plotted the annexation of Austria just before WWII.

We drank good Austrian beer as we watched the debate on a giant flat-screen TV.  I occasionally wondered what debates might have gone on in this meeting room some 74 years earlier.

We were then linked through a colleague at work with a reporter for FM-4  (or FM-Fear for those who are hip) to do expat interviews about the election.  The interviewer wanted to know about specific states, so I talked about Virginia in my segment (Jim's Interview), and Misti talked about South Dakota and Minnesota in hers (Misti's Interview).  You will have to wade through some German to get to us, but it might be interesting.

Misti has years of radio experience stemming from her days as the editor of Mindworks in Minneapolis, so she wisely suggested we go to the studio to do the interviews.  Discussions are always better when you can sit across from the interviewer and have an actual conversation.

FM-4 Studio
So we trooped off to . . . wait for it … the Funkhaus . . . where FM-4 is located, and did our bit for America. 

On election eve we went to the Golden Harp Irish Pub, which was so crowded with Democrats that we ended up once again in a basement.  We sat with a couple of Americans who have spent several years in Austria.  The woman is a nutritionist with the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency … something to do with radiating food.  She was raised in a Mormon family whose direct lineage went back to Brigham Young and whose grandfather knew Romney’s grandfather in Mexico. No longer Mormon, she was solidly for Obama.  Her husband, raised in a bizarre Christian cult family in the US, escaped and … years later … was in a Viennese Irish Pub waiting for election returns.

We made it to midnight and reluctantly went home. Rather than watch CNN, I went to bed with my laptop streaming election news through earphones.  It was about 5 a.m. here when it became clear Obama was going to win.  Misti was asleep, but woke up from a dream in which Romney won, and as she had gone to bed thinking Obama might lose, she at first tried to ignore that an election had even occurred and didn't ask who had won. Her day got much better. 

Local Coverage 
The next big event here was Thanksgiving.  I attended the annual Thanksgiving lunch at work … done in an elaborate palace room with 23 turkeys.   They typically have an American tell all of the Europeans what Thanksgiving is and why we celebrate it.  I did the talk two years ago, and a colleague from Washington, DC, did it last year.

This year, for some reason, a young Chinese researcher did the honors.  He’d lived in the US, he said, so he knew about Thanksgiving.  He then talked about a celebration he’d grown up with in China that had nothing to do with Thanksgiving, and we all were a little puzzled as we turned to our turkeys.  The highlight of the lunch was the moment an Austrian colleague had her first piece of pumpkin pie.  Austrians don't do pumpkin pie.  She claimed she liked it. 

First Pumpkin Pie Ever 

Misti couldn’t make it to the lunch, so we went to a Thanksgiving dinner, sponsored by the ever-active Democrats Abroad, at a nice Austrian restaurant.  Two American colleagues from work joined us … one brought her daughter.  So, we created an instant family, enjoyed lively conversation, and had a good night.
Thanksgiving in Vienna

And now on to Christmas. Nine days and counting until all three sons, Melanie and grandson Ocean arrive to spend the holidays with us. Unfortunately for us, Erin, Will, Colin and Henry will be celebrating in Maryland. As thrilling as the election might have been and as enjoyable as Thanksgiving proved to be, both pale next to the excitement of a family reunion. 


  1. Nice post. After talking to you on the phone, asking you to support Jim Webb for Senate, I found your blog. It was the most enjoyable call of the hundreds I made seeking support for sundry Dems around the US.