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Showing posts from March, 2010

Next Customer Please?

Clothes shopping. This is how we do it in Vienna. The line at the check out is long, five customers, maybe six. After a while a second cashier walks up, opens a register, and yells: "Over here!" The two ladies at the end of the line grab their belongings and run. The ones in front are too slow, left to ponder whether the new lane will be faster or the old one.

Eternal Salvation

The difference between politics in the USA and in Europe is often as small (or big) as one three letter word: God. In Sunday's debate on health care Rep. Dale Kildee (D - Michigan) mentioned the afterlife. "I'm not going to jeopardize my eternal salvation", he said, assuring listeners that federal money would not be used to pay for abortions and that he could vote for the bill. To many Europeans such words, especially in the context of a parliamentary debate, sound bizarre. Is this because most European countries have clear rules for the separation of church and state? Or is it because the secularization of the Old World has reached a point where people dare not even think along religious lines? Take Austria, a country rooted in Catholicism: In left leaning circles atheism is defended with a vehemence reminiscent of the fundamentalism of the Christian right in the United States. It will be interesting to see if and how things change over the next decades, as Muslim me

Friends and Friendliness

Friends in Austria like to ask about friendliness in the USA. They say: "When your neighbor wishes you a good day - she doesn't mean it, right? It's all superficial." I am not sure about the answer, but does friendliness, whatever the motives, not make for a more pleasant life? I'd rather have my neighbor wish me a good day and not mean it than have her bark at me and mean it.

Schools and License Plates

The other day our daughter came home from school with a new assignment: memorize the names of the counties in Austria and their two letter abbreviations on car license plates. There are 99! The assignment is typical of Austria - and very different from our previous experience in the USA where skills rather than encyclopedic knowledge were taught. Why feed students with often useless knowledge which they need to be able to reproduce on demand? In times of Google and Wikipedia? The schooling philosophy behind Austrian teaching is probably 250 years old. It favors dictated over self directed learning, dependent thinking over independent judgment, and authoritarian over democratic structures. God bless Austria!