Living abroad requires a delicate adjustment and balancing of cultures. Moving from Scotland to Austria, the differences aren’t so great, perhaps, as with a relocation to Asia or Africa. But things are still different enough to be unsettling.
One of the first differences I noticed was the opening hours of shops here. During the week, supermarkets close at 7.30pm, at the latest. On Sundays, they aren’t open at all. No shops are. On my first weekend here, I wasn’t at all prepared for this. I planned to go into town to pick up a few toiletries, a new towel – things I’d forgotten to bring, or had to leave behind on account of baggage allowances. I wanted to get some groceries, too, after a few days of finding my feet and eating out. A friend had warned me that nothing was open on Sundays - but I didn’t realise she meant it literally. So, naively, I wandered around town, coming across shop after shop with shutters down.
I ate out again that Sunday, and I learned my lesson. To begin with, I thought it was highly inconvenient. What if I ran out of milk in the evening, or wanted to buy biscuits before bed? In the UK, I was so used to massive supermarkets, which stayed open until at least 10pm, if not for twenty-four hours. But now, I panic buy food every Saturday, to ensure my cupboards are well-stocked for the next day. ‘What do people do here on Sundays?’ I asked my flatmate after my first Sunday here. She just looked at me. ‘Nothing,’ she replied. She lived in London for a year, she told me, and when her Austrian friends came to visit her, instead of going to bars in the evenings, they wanted to spend time in twenty-four hour Tesco. They’d run round the aisles, amazed at the number of people shopping at midnight, and at the sheer size of the supermarket; the amount of choice contained within it.
If it’s inconvenient, then there’s also something nice about it. Who needs to be able to buy soup or soap or bread twenty four hours a day? No one really needs to of course, it’s just nice to know that we can. But it’s nice, too, to have Sundays completely free from material worries. Sundays here are all about relaxing for hours in coffee shops, spending time with friends and catching up on last-minute work before the week begins again on Monday. Sunday is a day of rest, whether religious or not, and a day of pure indulgence.
People in the UK often complain, ‘I thought Sundays were meant to be a day of rest!’, whilst rushing to work, doing chores or standing in queues in shops. Well, here in Austria, it really is a day of rest. It’s different, but it’s a difference I could definitely get used to.