Three Things about Salzburg

1. The trash receptacles here are TINY. The trash compartments in my host mom’s kitchen are the size of what Americans consider desktop or counter-sized trash cans. The first time I saw a dumpster here I stopped and stared because it was so cute. You know how American dumpsters are so huge that people make swimming pools out of them? Austrian dumpsters are small enough that you can actually look down on them. Street trash cans, likewise, are tiny. My first day in the city I had a wad of tissues wedged in my pocket because I couldn’t find a single trash can, until someone pointed out that the trash cans were these little barely-two-gallon-sized cans tied to traffic poles. Despite the trash cans and dumpsters being small, they are never full. My conclusion is that Americans just produce way too much garbage.

2. Public transportation here rocks. Once I figured out the bus system (there are multiple bus lines, of course, and due to me mishearing German yesterday I got off about five stops too early and had to walk a ridiculous distance back to my host family’s house) I realized how convenient and easy it was. And the buses are clean and feel updated and well-kept. I rarely ever take American busses, but my impression of them is that they are gross and poorly maintained.

(What also threw me at first was that the busses here don’t stop at every stop if there is no one waiting to get on or off. You either get up and wait at the door before you get to your stop or you press a red button to alert the driver that you want to get off at the next stop. I was bewildered when the overhead announced my stop but the bus went barreling right past it. Now that I get it, it just seems really efficient.)

3. Mozart is EVERYWHERE. If I had a penny for every time I saw a storefront with a display of Mozartkugel, I would have enough money to upgrade to a first-class ticket back to the States. There are two big statues of Mozart in the area of the city where I go to school, and I can easily walk to Mozart’s birthplace, an apartment he lived in later, the cathedral where he worked, and I can visit where his sister is buried and the cafe where he got his coffee every day. (The cafe is still in business!) The Mozarteum, of course, is in Salzburg. There is enough Mozart-themed merchandise to make you puke, from violin-shaped bottles of Mozart liqueur to Mozart perfume. Salzburg is a city that will not let you forget that it was the birthplace of the greatest musical genius of all time.

(Also everywhere, but not to the same extent, is “The Sound of Music.” There is merchandise everywhere, there are “Sound of Music tours,” and there is a public “the making of” exhibition. I’ve been told Austrians aren’t that fond of the movie, but Salzburg is milking it for all it’s worth. For the record, I’ve already visited several places where specific scenes were shot, in addition to the abbey where the real Maria von Trapp was a nun.)

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On the Metric System

Being in Europe makes me feel like the US uses a completely inferior measurement system. Ever since I got on the plane things have been in kilometers and meters. My carry-on was “under eight kilograms,” however much that is. I asked one information desk lady where to exchange my currency and the directions she gave me included “fifteen meters.” I confess I’m bad enough at judging things like “fifty feet” or “twenty yards” or “ten pounds” but when you completely switch the measurement system out on me I’m just totally lost.
Something tells me that this is America’s fault. We’re on a totally wacky system of inches and feet and miles where everything converts arbitrarily but the metric system is so elegant. Centimeters, meters, kilometers, everything is just a multiple of ten. Too bad I just can’t get it.
Another thing which makes me feel like Europe is out to get me is the way that time is notated on the 24-hour scale, or military time as we Americans like to call it. Now before you think I’m totally dumb, I do know how it works and in fact I use 24-hour time on Facebook so I’m at least somewhat familiar with it.
The thing is, though, I don’t think in terms of twenty-four hours. I can figure out that “18:48” is “6:48 PM” just fine but when everyone’s throwing around numbers bigger than twelve and instantly knowing what part of the day that is, it just confuses me. “7:30 PM” to me means the sun is going down, or that people are eating dinner around that time. “19:30” means nothing to me.
It also, in my mind, raises the possibility that I’ll somehow miscalculate the time and get things totally messed up. It’s like the European system is just lying in wait for me, just counting down the differently-notated hours until I’m bound to mess up and show up to something at completely the wrong time.

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Now blogging from Salzburg

I was going to blog before I left the States, WHOOPS! Anyway I had some downtime with my computer at the Munich airport, and now that I have an internet connection at my host family’s house in Salzburg I’ll start dumping my offline blog vomit here.

I’m sitting in the Munich airport as I write this. I don’t actually have internet access (you have to pay per hour of wifi) so I’m writing in Microsoft Word with the intention of putting this on my blog later.
The reason why I’m sitting in the Munich airport is because for some reason I have to wait three hours for my van to Salzburg, where I will be studying and staying with my host family. When I booked the van through email this week, I was told that the driver would be waiting at the airport for me; when I actually got to the transfer service counter, I was told that I’d have to wait three hours. I attempted to get to the bottom of it all but the representative of the specific service I was using couldn’t understand English and another rep for another service had to translate for him. It was a messy situation.
So yes, being in a country where you don’t know the language is certainly an experience, and I’m not even out of the airport. I’ve passed the time by reading my student handbook, journaling, napping, and changing the time zone on my iPod Touch repeatedly. Yes, I forgot to bring a book. (It’s a moment of forgetfulness I’m kicking myself for; what I would give to have my copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn right now.) As of now I have more than an hour to go before the alleged magic time in which I will be graced with transport to my host family.
8:03 PM edit: A man from the Salzburg transport service just came and took my luggage; in broken English he told me that we’d leave at 9:00. I really hope that this works out and that I don’t end up in some horrible situation where my luggage ends up somewhere else.
I’d like to note that so far I’ve found myself having to be That American who doesn’t know the language and copes by just speaking in English to anyone with a nametag or behind a counter. It’s a poor situation to be in, but hopefully the German course I’m taking at the college will teach me enough to at least let me show that I’m trying.

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