Austria is a federation. Each of its nine federal states has a unique and distinct culture.
Austrians aren't easy to categorize. In fact, the main reason Austrians stand out from their European neighbors is that they don't stand out from the rest for anything in particular. Austrians are moderate in their outlook and behavior. Being at Europe's crossroads, their culture is influenced from several sides. The stereotype of the yodeling, thigh slapping, beer-swilling xenophobe may apply to a few individuals but it certainly doesn't apply to the majority of Austrians.
The average Austrian on the street is likely to be friendly yet somewhat reserved and formal, softly spoken and well mannered, law abiding, socially conservative, rooted, family oriented, conformist and somewhat nepotistic, a Catholic at heart, not particularly religious but a follower of tradition, well educated if not as cosmopolitan as his/her European cousins, cynical, and equipped with a dry, sarcastic sense of humor.
Austrians as a large like to define themselves merely by what they are not. Tourists often make the mistake of classifying Austrians as Germans, which despite a common language (well at least on paper), they are not. Arguably, Southern Germany, especially Bavaria, is a close cultural relative of Austria in many ways. Indeed the regions of Austria are all similar to their neighbors, so you will not notice you have crossed a border, whether it be into South Tyrol in Italy, north to Bavaria or east to Hungary.
For most of its history, Austrians have a hard time defining their own nation; they face perhaps currently the most media influence from Germany but have a very different culture, especially from northern Germany. The historic minorities and individual cultures are valued, yet they have to struggle to survive.
Austria has a long history of being multicultural country: a glance at the Vienna phone book is all you need to discover this. Ironically, it is Germany to the north that is paving the way regarding the integration of foreigners into society in Central Europe. Austria remains a largely conservative and rural country with the exception of Vienna. Indeed, the cultural conflicts and national identity are as complicated and hard to understand for many Austrians as they are for visitors! The level of personal awareness and views on this vary greatly from person to person but are generally subject to a particularly Austrian avoidance of the subject, which is to the polls. It is best to try to see the diversity and enjoy the variety than to jump to conclusions.
Hence many Austrians derive their identity from their region or Bundesland (state). For instance, typical inhabitants of Carinthia would say that they are Carinthian first and Austrian second and maybe European third. Asking what state that someone is from is normally the first question Austrians ask when meeting for the first time.
The fact that Austrians dislike demonstrations of national identity can, however, also be explained partly by the historical experiences Austria had during the Third Reich and especially due to the violent use of national symbols in the growing Austrofascist movement as well as by the far-right Freedom Party. It is also due to the fact that the current state of Austria is a relatively young and loose federal republic of just 8 million people.
However, the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center rates Austria as the 5th most patriotic country in the world. So Austrians do very much love their country but are unlikely to be flag-wavers. Perhaps Austria's ascendancy to the EU in 1995 and its more recent adoption of the euro and the border-less Europe have given it a stronger sense of importance and self-worth in the greater context of Europe.
Most Austrians like to enjoy the good life. They spend a lot of time eating, drinking and having a good time with friends in a cozy environment, and are therefore very hospitable. Members of the older generation can be conservative in the sense that they frown upon extremes of any shape and form and, in general, are adverse to change. They enjoy one of the highest living standards in the world and want to keep it that way.
Austria has no well-defined class system. The rural and regional difference tend to be greater than in neighboring countries. Generally, the further to the west and the more rural you go, the more socially conservative people are.
Austrians (especially those over 40) take formalities and etiquette seriously. Even if you are the most uncharismatic person in the world, old-fashioned good manners (Gutes Benehmen) can take you a long way in a social situation. On the flip side, there are endless possibilities to put your foot in it and attract frowns for breaking an obscure rule.
In general, in most of continental Europe, personnel in shops and other services do not show the same level of politeness people from other continents might be used to. You may find for example that a shop assistant tells you off after asking to buy something. In Vienna a cafe isn't considered a real cafe without bad-tempered and arrogant waiters.
Austrians as a people generally "don't like" Germany or Germans at least in the competitive sense and are quite sensitive about it. 80 million to the north in Germany and 8 million in Austria has made this an even more lively rivalry. Don't compare Austria negatively to Germany; you will quickly anger the locals as Germans are seen as over rich bad arrogant driving tourists on a bad day.
Perhaps surprisingly for a rather conservative nation, Austria's attitude towards nudity is one of the most relaxed in Europe. The display of full nudity in the mainstream media and advertising can be a shock for many visitors, especially those from outside Europe. It is not uncommon for women to bathe topless in beaches and recreational areas in summer. Though swimming costumes must normally be worn in public pools and beaches, when bathing "wild" in rivers and lakes is normally OK to take one's clothes off. Nudity is compulsory in Austria's many nude beaches (FKK Strand), health spas and hotel saunas. Like in Germany, do not wear bathing suits into saunas or you garner strange looks.
Some basic etiquette (Of course most of this doesn't really matter when you are in a younger crowd)
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