From the eyes of a tour guide, Vienna is indeed the most beautiful city in the world. But let’s be honest, a tour guide’s perspective might be historically accurate, but it will never be neutral. So, I sat down and realized, that the very best way to find out what makes Vienna so special, is to go out there and ask Viennese about it. And by Viennese, I mean anyone who lives in Vienna, regardless their gender, age, color or nationality.
Viennese by choice since 2013, Suzan Sittig is a classical ballerina at the Vienna State Ballet. Suzan and I met on a gorgeous day in March and had a chat while enjoying the sunshine at the Volksgarten, a splendid park in the first district. Needless to say, I was the excited one, feeling a mix of respect and fandom for a real-life professional from the world of classical ballet.
Before moving to Vienna, Suzan, who was born in South Africa, lived in England, where she studied at the Royal Ballet School. After graduating, she decided it was time for her to start a new chapter and, as most people do after graduation, she began applying for jobs. One audition later (yes, you read right: just one!), there she was, getting accepted at the Vienna State Ballet.
Today, in the midst of a pandemic, Suzan reflects about the image of classical dancers and their role in the world. While she doesn’t identify as the stereotypical ballerina, she aims to help other dancers figure out how to free themselves from outdated mindsets. Suzan talks about dialogue, identity and injury prevention, and she couldn’t stress enough how essential mental health care is for athletes, just like for anyone else. Even though I could listen to her talking about her profession and future plans all afternoon, I force myself to change the direction of the conversation and start having a real chat about Vienna.
Not your regular tour guide
Suzan, what was your first impression of Vienna? Did you do some research before moving? I didn’t do any research, as I first simply came to do my audition and didn’t realize it would all go so quickly. About my first impression, well… I was mesmerized! As I lived in England at the time, I pretty much came to Vienna as a tourist and was fascinated by the city itself, as well as its culture. I immediately fell in love with the architecture and was also amazed by the efficiency of public transport. It was all clear and easy-to-use, even if in a foreign language.
How was moving to Vienna? Was it easy to feel integrated/ do you feel integrated today? I feel 100% home. Every time I leave Vienna, I am just so happy to come back. When I first came here, I was pretty busy, as training started straight away. So, I would use my Sundays off to explore, get to know the city and be in the nature, which is something I still love to do. I consider myself very lucky as everyone I’ve met in Vienna has been extremely welcoming and understanding. The only thing that I might call frustrating, is that while I tried to practise German, people would immediately speak English to me. You know, I speak Afrikaans, so there are often false friends between the two languages, which may lead to misunderstandings at times. But besides getting lost in translation, I can only think of positive experiences in Vienna.
Speaking of Viennese! Is there any Vienna-cliché that comes to your mind? And if so, do you think clichés are true? Well, Austrians do have some stereotypes that are hard to crack. I think the longer I’ve lived here, the more I’d say that the word »grantig« (grouchy) pretty much sums it up. Especially when it comes to the older generation, sometimes people tend to make remarks even to strangers. Also, I noticed people are much more reserved than in other countries, but at the same time I must say I was welcomed with opened arms here. That’s definitely not the Austrian stereotype I was expecting. I truly think that being in Vienna, you learn to appreciate even those behaviors that might get on your nerves at times.
Do you mean, you appreciate people being grouchy? Kind of, yeah. Some things that you might not appreciate at first, start becoming part of your daily life, and you simply miss them when they’re gone. Just as an example, I once called for a »zweite Kassa!« (second cash desk) at the supermarket, and it felt so Viennese!
Wow! That takes some courage! Did you feel amazing for calling »zweite Kassa!«? Yes! Especially when they did open a second cash desk, I was like… this is glorious, I did this, guys. You are all welcome!
Have you ever had a major cultural misunderstanding? I don’t think it ever happened! Maybe that one time I criticized Vienna’s favorite drink, the Spritzer, by saying that you shouldn’t mix water with wine… but let’s not talk about it, I’ve learned my lesson.
What’s the most beautiful thing about Vienna? I love the architecture, but most of all, I love nature. The mix between beauty and nature is definitely one of the things I appreciate the most about Vienna.
Do you have a favorite place? I do love the Danube Canal. Especially in summer or spring time. It is a place where you’ll always meet someone you know, but you can also enjoy its nature, going rollerblading or jogging. Oh, and I absolutely love the Lainzer Tiergarten. I can remember the first time I went there… the sun went down between the trees and it was simply beautiful.
What tip would you give to someone who’s about to move to Vienna? Never ever use public transport without a ticket! And if you go out at night, get ready to have a long night! For no good party will begin before midnight.
You have friends visiting you in Vienna for 3 days: where do you take them? Day one: walk around the city center, then visit the Schönbrunn Park in the afternoon. I wouldn’t go inside the Palace though. Day two: definitely Prater, where we can chill by the river, then go do some of the rides at the amusement park. Day three: A day at the Lainzer Tiergarten, obviously.
Describe Vienna in three words! Spontaneous, Oida, and… well, I can’t think of a third word, I might just tell you later.
Suzan never came up with a third word. And that’s okay. As she’s loving her life in Vienna and is looking forward to seeing what the future holds for her! If you wish to learn more about Suzan, or simply find out whether she found that third word, feel free to read her blog or get in touch on social media.
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