Entschuldigung, ich versteh nicht: ich bin Amerikaner...
September 18, 2012 1:27 PM   Subscribe

I am traveling to Europe for work, for a week. I have never been outside the US before. Please tell me about very simple, basic things which I might not know due to inexperience.

I'm going to Vienna. I don't speak German, but know a few phrases and will bring a phrasebook. My accommodations, meals and work schedule are all set. All in all, I'm not going to have very much time to myself, but I do want to make the most of it.

Can you please tell me palm-on-forehead "Duh!" things which you realized the first time you traveled overseas, which you wish someone had told you? Like stuff to bring, stuff to do or NOT do, really really basic things.
posted by overeducated_alligator to Travel & Transportation around Vienna, Austria (68 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
One thing I found reassuring is that in places like Vienna, money really can buy most anything your forget (other than your passport and house keys). And while your debit card probably doesn't have a chip, it will still work in the atms and be usable as a credit card most places.

That said, don't forget your chargers and the appropriate power adaptors.

Bring lots of clothing layers, and dress a tad more nicely (when not at work functions) than you would at home, just to blend a little better. Otherwise, enjoy the pastries and city!
posted by ldthomps at 1:32 PM on September 18, 2012

Keep quiet and observe how people are acting around you before you decide to do something. Follow the lead of locals in manners. If something seems different or strange, roll with it rather making sure that everyone understands "it's not like this at home!".
posted by modernnomad at 1:33 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had this somewhat drilled into me when I went to Europe as a teenager - wear plain brown leather shoes. Apparently nothing says TOURIST to thieves more than wearing sneakers while walking around town.
posted by efalk at 1:33 PM on September 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

Research the electrical situation and any adapters you will need for things that need electricity (phone chargers, computer chargers, hair dryers, etc.)
posted by kimdog at 1:33 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

(rather than)
posted by modernnomad at 1:33 PM on September 18, 2012

Bring outlet converters.

ATMs as far as I've experienced don't have fees, but your bank will charge fees. I think it's cheapest and most convenient to get cash at an ATM at the airport once you arrive. Your American credit cards will not work in a lot of places because Europe has switched over to using PIN+chip instead of the mag stripe and signature. It will work for your hotel, rental car... basically anything where they're used to dealing with tourists.

You generally have to ask for the check at the restaurant. Waitstaff will let you sit there all night if you want.

Even if I'm going for work and not pleasure, I still like to bring a guidebook with me (I like the Lonely Planet series) for answers to basic questions like how the rail system works. Borrow them from the library.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:34 PM on September 18, 2012

You will need a converter to plug in your electrical appliances. You can get them on Amazon for very cheap or, if you are like me and always forget about this until the last second, you can go to a place like Radio Shack and buy them for a lot more than Amazon but still not that much in the grand scheme of things. Also, don't worry too much about forgetting stuff - as long as you have your passport and money, you're good. Vienna is a large city and you will be able to buy extra socks or toothpaste if you forget them.

Carry a little map of the city with you. If you have a smartphone with a maps app, great, but if not, just rip a map out of a Lonely Planet guide or similar. Mark the location of your hotel on it. If you have an iPhone, TripAdvisor has a free offline app that allows you to download complete maps of major cities that you can then access without having a data connection. I just checked and Vienna is one of the cities offered.

My main advice, though, is to be polite and friendly, and if you get freaked out about trying to buy something or having to interact with someone who doesn't understand you or suddenly realize you have no idea where you are, you can just leave and go outside and take a deep breath and figure out for a minute. My husband and I went on a fairly spontaneous trip to Tunisia a few years back, my first trip to a non-English speaking country. We did some minor freaking out the first couple of days, until we figured out that people and things and places are really not that different at heart, and we could just take some time to figure things out if we got confused about what was going on.
posted by something something at 1:36 PM on September 18, 2012

Don't miss the Prater and generally Leopoldstadt. The Riesenrad/Ferris Wheel is totally worth it.
posted by vkxmai at 1:38 PM on September 18, 2012

Bring plug adapters.

Be prepared for ordering at restaurants and bars to be non-obvious compared to what you're used to. At least in the UK, I find the "Enter restaurant, be seated by host, order from waiter, receive check unsolicited from waiter, pay waiter" routine to be uncommon. If all else fails, spend a few minutes watching what other people do, and follow suit.

If you want to blend in, dress up a bit (what an American would consider dressing up... aka not jeans, or if you must wear jeans, dark washed well-tailored jeans with heels) and don't wear sneakers. Act as you would in any large American city: walk with your head up, make eye contact in a confident way, look like you know what you're doing. Don't stand in the middle of a sidewalk with a giant map open.

Be adventurous about food, as long as you have no serious restrictions (vegetarianism) or allergies. Just roll with it.
posted by olinerd at 1:40 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are planning to make any side purchases of your own (i.e. things that are not taken care of/charged to corporate), i.e. you will need money of your own:

- Make photocopies of your passport and any bank cards (credit, debit, ATM) that you will be bringing with you. In case of loss or damage, this will help expedite getting a new passport, stopping the bank cards or whatever is necessary.

- Call the banks on all cards you may use while abroad, and let them know about your travel plans (I will be in Austria from X date to Y date). Also ask them what the customer service to call from abroad from, as banks also have an annoying habit of still not letting your card through even though you just told them last week you are going abroad. Bah. Alternatively, have Skype on your phone and call the US number via Skype over wifi.

- I generally prefer pulling money from ATMs, you will get the best rate. It sounds like you'll be on a business trip with others, but if you were traveling alone I would also advise bringing some US cash in case none of your cards work and you need some immediate cash on hand.

WRT to "chip and pin," what all the posters are referring to above is that most of the world has switched over to a system in which your credit card has a chip and a PIN that you input to pay, instead of having the card swiped and your signing it like you do in the US. In places like Canada nobody is fazed by the US' antique swiping system, but in Europe in smaller, less non-touristy areas, you may have some trouble. However, I would think that in an international business context this will be no problem. Regardless, this is why I usually pay with cash abroad (as it also helps control my inevitably high spending on vacation! ;) )

Have a wonderful trip!
posted by andrewesque at 1:43 PM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Get the Lonely Planet Vienna guide (or one of the many other find guidebooks). It is more comprehensive and reliable than a bunch of strangers on the internet, and you can bring it with you. It has sections on practical information that will tell you about "basic things which I might not know due to inexperience." Again, you can read it in advance so you will know how to prepare and then bring it with you (either on paper or electronically), so that when something comes up you can look in the index and find the answer.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:46 PM on September 18, 2012

An English/German dictionary might be useful too. When I was in Austria two years ago I wanted to buy cinnamon, which wasn't in the phrase book so I had to go through this whole pantomime of pretending to make a strudel until the woman realised what I wanted. If I'd had a dictionary I could have looked it up.
posted by essexjan at 1:52 PM on September 18, 2012

You won't automatically get water in a restaurant, and if you ask for it, it will probably arrive in a bottle, and you'll get charged for it. You may also be asked if you want "still or sparkling". And don't expect ice.

Find out about what's expected for tipping before you go. It's rarely the same as in the U.S.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 1:52 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I went to Vienna about 2 years ago. I would very shyly start a conversation, expressing that I didn't know any German and I was sorry.

They didn't care at all and in pretty much every situation I needed, there was some form of English option.
posted by raccoon409 at 1:55 PM on September 18, 2012

Get someone who understands electricity to explain power converters to you. There's fitting the plug into the socket which requires a plug converter. There's also the step down of power which requires a step down transformer. That you can fit the plug into the socket does not mean things are good to go. (Unless you mean go poof and blow out some smoke.)

If you have a problem converting money, then write the US denomination on the bills for the first few days, ex. on a 100 Euro note write 130. When you buy something, the currency you're familiar with will be right there on the bill.
posted by 26.2 at 1:58 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you can remember a few basic phrases you will get a much better reception: please, hello, yes, no, thank you, and I would like.
posted by zippy at 1:58 PM on September 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

If you plan to use your cell phone while you are in Europe, and call your carrier before you go to (1) check if your phone will work, and and (2) check how much international calls will cost. You will probably need an international rate plan if you plan to call or text others in country, or call/text home to the US. Without an international rate plan, it's very easy to rack up ridiculous phone charges in a very short amount of time.... As in the order of hundreds, even thousands of of dollars. International rate plans aren't cheap but cheaper than not having one! Same for data usage. Seriously, call your carrier.
posted by Ardea alba at 2:02 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

First, a meta-tip: if you're travelling to Vienna, start your question ‘I'm travelling to Vienna’, rather than ‘I'm travelling to Europe’. Europe is not very homogeneous, and things that apply in Vienna might not apply in Glasgow, Crete, or Bornholm.

I greatly enjoyed myself in Vienna, but I can't really think of any single thing I'd regard as unmissable. Really, I just liked strolling around the central bits gawping at the over-the-top imperial architecture. And drinking the beer. And eating the amazing cakes and multifarious fried meats.

Money: I found that cash appeared to be the norm, to a greater extent than most places I've visited. They didn't seem to have a problem with foreign credit cards, but cash was generally the path of least resistance.

Public restrooms are scarce, free ones extremely scarce. McDonald's and their ilk can be useful here :-).

As others have said, err towards smart rather than sloppy where dress is concerned.

And, also as others have said, go with the flow, take it easy, and enjoy the moment. Hang out with locals if that's a possibility, and you will have a more enjoyable time than trying to work through a tourist tick-list, even if you miss out on a couple of ‘official’ must-sees. Have fun! (In Vienna, it will be hard not to.)
posted by pont at 2:07 PM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Or get your phone unlocked and get a pay as you go sim at a newsagent (corner shop).
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:07 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have a smart phone (or computer) download Skype and load it with $10 or so. You will be able to call anywhere for a REALLY low rate as long as you have a wifi signal. If you have an iPhone, make sure it stays in airplane mode.

If you're going out exploring/drinking, mark your address on a small map of the city and stuff it in your pocket or bag. This saved me a bunch of times when I was a somewhat irresponsible college student roaming through Europe.
posted by justjess at 2:08 PM on September 18, 2012

If your ATM card's PIN has more than 4 numbers, change it to 4 only. At least as of 5-10 years ago, some ATMs did not accept long PINs!
posted by teragram at 2:10 PM on September 18, 2012

If you don't look obviously foreign you might find the locals will first address you in their native language (this happened to me a lot in Germany and The Netherlands). Just smile politely and ask them if they can repeat in English. You'll be surprised at how many people can speak English, if not fluently at least well enough for you to purchase something or order food and drink. It's usually faster and easier than thumbing through a phrase book.
posted by tommasz at 2:13 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are no stop signs in Europe.

Thereare fewer stop signs in Europe, and almost no four-way-stops. The yield sign reigns, and the right-before-left rule.

Power conversion: many chargers and transformers work well on any input level between 100 and 240 Volt. Look on the label of every single charger you want to use to verify this. In this case, the only thing you need is adaptors of this kind (not the exact brand but the principle).
On the other hand, 110-V input-apparatuses without chargers or transformers need a 110-220 voltage converter, which is a beast to carry. Don't take such apparatuses with you.
posted by Namlit at 2:13 PM on September 18, 2012

Eat at these fine establishments. (Previous AskMeFi Thread)

If you are engaging the foreign language, and you've learned a few basic interrogatives, don't reflexively say "WHAT?" to each and every thing you don't understand, as one sometimes does. Learn "Can you please say that again?" (And not the classic language-teacher phrase "REPEAT PLEASE!") or "I don't understand."

Vienna is the namesake of one of the more delicious forms of lager. Drink some. No. Drink lots.

Postcards! Foreign stamps!
posted by Sunburnt at 2:14 PM on September 18, 2012

Don't be too concerned about the sneakers thing that people mention above. A lot of Germans and Austrians where sneakers, though they are not the *WHITE* sneakers we tend to wear in the States. Leather shoes are best, but if you have some non-white sneakers, those won't stand out as much as they once used to.
posted by chiefthe at 2:16 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

This may not be the case if your company is putting you up in American-friendly accomodation, but hotels in Europe can be quite different, from the way the bathrooms are laid out (and even whether you have your own!) to the size of the room, to the unlikeliness of there being a restaurant on the first floor (rare). Just be prepared for surprises in the background stuff, as well as the more obvious things.
posted by acm at 2:18 PM on September 18, 2012

JET LAG: this will probably be the biggest hurdle for you if you've never flown more than 4 timezones from home.

Everyone will have a strategy but I'll share mine with you: try to get on the local clock as quick as you can. Sleep a little on the flight if you like, but once you start to hit daylight STAY UP. Don't go crazy on caffeine and Red Bull. Once you land, take a hot bath and a short nap (no more than an hour or so), then force yourself to stay up until you hit an early bedtime there. You'll hit waves of fatigue, no worse than doing an all-nighter in school. If you can power through those and sleep a solid night (at nighttime), you'll be good the next day.

Photocopying your passport and other important docs is nice. I scanned mine and kept them in my gmail inbox using two-factor authorization. A little more convenient in case you're somewhere away from your other stuff.

Food will be the biggest change from home, in my opinion. You'll obviously be with locals at various points of your trip. ASK THEM, whenever you can, for suggestions and things that they like. People are usually very proud of their hometowns and will happily help you with great discoveries.

Embrace the change and enjoy the trip. You'll have a blast.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:22 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would learn the names of the equivalents of whatever stores you use stateside. For example, the grocery store, the pharmacy, that sort of thing.

But when in doubt, people over there need the same sorts of stores we have here, if you're observant, you can probably figure it out. Walking by a large rectangular store with food products and prices advertised in the window? That's probably the grocery store. Walking by a store with a mortar and pestle on the sign or that medical cross? Probably a pharmacy. I once found a completely unmarked Ikea bus stop by following the gaggles of people carrying Ikea boxes back to their point of origin.

Also, take pictures, even if they're crappy cellphone pictures or whatever. Even if--especially if--it's just the city streets or village square, nothing particularly historic or notable. My biggest regret is not taking nearly enough pictures on my travels.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:40 PM on September 18, 2012

Best answer: If you don't speak German, I'd caution using random phrases out of the phrase book - Austrian dialect is a German hybrid and they are sticklers for pronounciation. Most phrase books are what are considered "high German" and Austrian dialect is almost like street-slang German, complete with it's own phrases that just don't translate.

Nthing times a zillion to being quiet, observing what other people are doing before acting. Don't be a pushy, loud American.

If you need a morning cup of coffee, be fully prepared that everyone is smoking and drinking (booze and coffee) at 9am.

Many hotels do not provide BIG bath towels (or big to American standards). Water isn't an automatic thing in restaurants. If you go to a grocery store, they won't necessarily give you a bag for your purchases.

Eat as much cheese and mustard as you can possibly stomach - it's amazing on some of the locally made breads.

In Austria, they might not stamp your passport. It's one of those countries where if they want to find you, they'll do it.

Appreciate the gardens and arts - try to visit the Spanish riding school if you have time.

If you are attending any business events - be on time. If you can't be on time, be early.
posted by floweredfish at 2:49 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Find out if your bank charges you foreign currency exchange fees. Those are a bugger.

As stated above, let your credit card companies know the cities and dates you are planning on being there. If you use credit cards other than Visa or MasterCard, you aren't guaranteed that they are accepted.

If you are staying at a hotel and having to travel to a work site, get a business card of the person you are working with there that has the site's address on it. Use that to tell the taxi driver how to get to the place. (Oh, the people who laughed at my sorry attempts to pronounce "three" in Polish!)

Keep receipts for EVERYTHING - especially if you are getting reimbursed through your company. Some companies also allow for $20-$25 of miscellaneous expenses. Find out before you go if drinks are included in the reimbursements.

The hotel's car is usually more expensive than the taxi. Try to get the taxi first.

They probably won't have ice for your drinks and they probably won't have any diet sodas - you find "Coke Light" if you're lucky.

Does the hotel have breakfast on site? Is it included in the hotel fee or do you have to pay extra for it? Receipts!

Definitely have some local currency on hand - it is much more prevalent than credit card for incidentals like batteries, aspirin, bottled water, etc.

Have you been on a long plane ride before? I like to wear a hooded sweatshirt (to keep warm with - it gets cold up there!) and I bring ear plugs and a small pillow. I usually have a glass of red wine on the plane (or right before boarding) and then try to sleep most of the flight.

Good luck!
posted by jillithd at 2:49 PM on September 18, 2012

Oh and, be prepared to make use of public transportation. Everyone gets around with trams, trains and buses. People will be expecting you to get on and off the bus according to instructions and find your way.
posted by Namlit at 2:53 PM on September 18, 2012

Related to carrying cash, carry small bills and coins. Austrians are probably more polite about it than the French or Italians, but using large bills to make small purchases and expecting or asking for change, which is completely normal in the United States, was often a huge eye-rolling sighing deal.
posted by thebazilist at 2:54 PM on September 18, 2012

I just got back from Vienna. I had a cold the whole time, so I didn't get too much out of it, but here's my advise nonetheless...

The Imperial treasury was really impressive. The Habsburgs really knew how to use enormous jewels. I also loved the Kunsthistorisches Museum - truly impressive. I found the rest of the museums pretty meh, but that could be the cold talking. Also, if you have the time and inclination, get standing room tickets to the opera by going to the opera house ninety minutes before the show and lining up.

Public transportation (metro and trams) was quick and easy, but there's an extra step to the process that Americans don't always know about. FIRST, you buy your ticket in the metro stop from a machine (the machine will speak English). THEN, you stick the ticket in a little box to validate it. The ticket alone is not enough. There are no turnstiles or anything, but sometimes someone will come through and check everyone.

Most people speak English. However, when you approach someone, it is polite to use whatever German you know to ask if they speak English. In my case, I know no German, so I would approach by saying 'English?'

As people above mentioned, your credit card will be different and will confuse people and machines. If you're at the counter, when you hand it over, indicate that it is a swipe card. Or just use cash.

Also, this is somewhat philosophical but, in my opinion, it's okay to look like a tourist. You ARE a tourist. You can pull out your map or ask for directions or hold out a hand full of coins if you didn't get the price right the first time or take your time wandering or wear whatever shoes you want. You're not trying to impress anyone. But you are trying to do two things:
a) Don't look like an easy mark for thieves or con artists which means keeping an eye on your wallet and make sure you are aware of your surroundings and
b) Don't piss off the locals by being a rude or annoying tourist which means not stopping in the middle of a busy sidewalk to stare at things, not talking at the top of your lungs in restaurants or on buses, especially if you're complaining (remember many people speak English), not assuming that everything will be the same as in the US, etc. Imitate the locals' behavior.

Depending on your current lifestyle and your schedule in Vienna, you might walk a lot more than you're used to. It's pretty standard in many European cities to walk a reasonable amount, so your hosts might have you walking back and forth from hotel to restaurants without thinking too much about it. When you sightsee, you'll certainly be walking. Bring comfortable shoes.

And the only thing that you really can't forget or lose is your passport. Everything else is replaceable.
posted by oryelle at 2:54 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't forget military time and metric measurements.
posted by effluvia at 2:57 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Public restrooms usually have an attendant. They provide various levels of personal service, the most basic of which is supplying you with toilet paper. They expect to be tipped (I usually gave them a one euro coin.)

The facility itself may just be a hole in the floor with two foot prints beside it.
posted by Lone_Wolf at 2:58 PM on September 18, 2012

Best answer: Very important to let your credit and debit (including ATM) card providers know you'll be out of the country, or they may be declined for potential fraud.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:59 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In addition to all the other great advice:
- If you have a smartphone, turn off roaming data, buy an international data service plan, or be very surprised on your next bill.
- Although they look dorky (IMHO), I have used an "around the neck passport/ticket" holder ever since leaving my passport on a plane in Frankfurt on my way to Bangalore. So far, I have not lost my passport again :).
posted by elmay at 3:10 PM on September 18, 2012

You will get a better exchange rate from an ATM than from Travelex but the ATMs don't always have letters on the keypads. If you remember your ATM PIN as a word this can be troubling. You can use your phone to get a keypad alphabet.

Using voice or data will probably be really really expensive, but smartphone location services (GPS) will still work without an extra fee. If you're anything like me you probably don't even realize how dependent you are on having a data plan, especially when you're traveling, to find your way around, locate interesting establishments, etc. For this purpose I like City Maps 2 Go--download it while you have wifi or before you leave. It provides cached offline maps (no data plan required), complete with searchable pre-loaded POIs, and will show your location on the map.

It sounds like you're traveling for work? If so, pay for everything you can on your credit or debit card. It makes expense reporting much easier--you won't need to manually convert everything into dollars when you do your report, and it provides a sort of receipt backup in the form of your statement. If your work expense reporting system has a smartphone app, use it! Photograph and/or label your receipts as soon as you get them (you can even just write directly on the receipt what it is)--very annoying to sort through a pile of foreign language receipts and try to figure out what they are for when doing your expense report.

Your card issuer will likely charge a 1-3% surcharge on transactions...for expensible things, your work should cover this.
posted by phoenixy at 3:13 PM on September 18, 2012

If you like ice and have access to a freezer, bring your own ice cube trays.
posted by dd42 at 3:17 PM on September 18, 2012

Expect to walk a lot. Don't shout everything you say - Americans have a reputation for talking too loudly. But really, you will be fine if you just observe the behaviour of people around you and try to adjust your own behaviour a little to match. Have fun!
posted by Joh at 3:21 PM on September 18, 2012

A lot of the time, using public transit has different rules than it does back home.

For example, in Rome (and I think other cities?), you buy a ticket for the metro, frank it in a machine, then enter the metro platform. Police do periodic checks for turnstile jumpers, so it's important to KEEP your ticket. Also to remember to do the franking process -- sometimes there's no physical barrier to force you to do it, you have to go find the machine and it's all built on trust.

Similarly, in some European cities the bus driver doesn't take tickets, you just carry a ticket in order to prove that you've paid the fare. Again, I seem to remember a franking process in some of these setups.

(on preview, similar to what oryelle mentions, and good to know that this IS in place in Vienna.)

Re local currency, 1 Euro coins take a little getting used to. Every time I go to Europe I get in this weird mentality where I run out of bills, assume I'm broke, and then have to remember to count my change because it's actually worth money there. Especially remember to do this before you leave the country, so you don't get on the plane and discover $20 worth of Euro coins in your pockets.

I find it's easier, cheaper, and overall better to drink what the locals drink. Yes, you can get whiskey in Paris and Bud Lite in Rome. But most European places are known for a local beverage, and you should drink it while you're there. Austria is both beer and wine country, so if you drink either of those, you're in luck. I think in terms of spirits, you're in schnapps territory, but it's worth a little research if you drink hard alcohol. You should still be able to get cocktails everywhere, of course, if that's your thing.

In terms of food, if I were going to Vienna I'd want pastries and schnitzel, but reading up on the local cuisine beyond that stuff is probably worthwhile.
posted by Sara C. at 3:26 PM on September 18, 2012

Take some laxatives with you. Take Immodium with you. You might need one or the other and it's far better to have them to hand than to have to try to buy them at short notice in a foreign country/language.
posted by essexjan at 3:28 PM on September 18, 2012

Do you wear glasses/contacts? If so, get a copy of your current prescription, scan it and e-mail it to yourself, and keep the hard copy on your person. That way if you break your glasses or lose your contacts, you can get a replacement done up quickly.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:34 PM on September 18, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you everyone! This is exciting.
Oh, one other thing which I probably should have mentioned -- I capital-D Don't drink and there is a possibility that there will be a lot of alcohol offered at these events. Is it OK to say the following? "Entschuldigung, ich trinke keine Alkohol."
Or is there a more appropriate/polite way to decline?
posted by overeducated_alligator at 4:53 PM on September 18, 2012

I'd probably go with something more in the vein of "No thanks", rather than making it a part of your identity/policy about what you do and don't do.

That said, I'm not a German speaker and don't get the full nuance of what you wrote.

But I definitely know that Europeans are less into dietary habits as identity, and that people from German-speaking parts of the world tend to be a little more aloof with strangers than Americans tend to be. "I don't drink alcohol" might be a bit of an overshare.
posted by Sara C. at 4:56 PM on September 18, 2012

My totally non-native feeling is that Ich trinke keine Alkohol will be fine - you might want to pair it with a request for something you do like to drink - Kann ich Wasser/Cola/Appfesaft haben bitte?

Remember most people speak some English, particularly younger people. Don't worry too much about the language - imagine you're speaking to a tourist in your home town you'd be ver forgiving of grammatical errors etc and so will they. Have a great time.
posted by prentiz at 5:09 PM on September 18, 2012

Sometimes hotels in Europe don't provide washcloths. It depends on how Americanized the hotel is. A Hilton will have washcloths. If you require a washcloth bring your own.

The thing about calling the waiter took me a while to get used to. The waiter will not come to you again after delivering your food unless you ask them. (you can just make eye contact and a little wave)

Don't let banks or other people stick you with large denomination bills. You will not be able to break them anywhere.

When they say something is on the first floor they mean the floor above the ground floor or what Americans would call the 2nd floor.

If you want to buy candy or cookies for souvenirs buy it at a grocery store. It's much cheaper than gift shops.

If you don't like mineral water with bubbles, learn how to order still water, in German it is "ohne gas"

Many people will speak English but it is helpful to learn basic phrases like please, thank you, hello, I'm sorry I don't speak [German], Do you speak English? And learn the low numbers.
posted by interplanetjanet at 5:30 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thirding the recommendation to use public transport and go walking. One thing, you may use the tram without ever being asked for your ticket but if you haven't bought one the Austrian people will be looking daggers at you, they are very law-abiding.

I'm sure you'll be looking up the sights online - there are so any museums and galleries I wouldn't know what to start recommending. Read beforehand and get an idea of what will interest you. What I would personally recommend is going up the Kahlenberg in the Vienna Woods. The views are amazing. (link) And it's just possible your hosts will take you for a local treat, which is barbecue at a hunting lodge in those woods.

Then of course there's the Freud Museum.

Oh and the greeting is "Gruss Gott", which I don't think is used in Germany.
posted by glasseyes at 5:36 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry, messed up the links: Freud Museum.
posted by glasseyes at 5:39 PM on September 18, 2012

On alcohol, note that whatever laws there are against drinking in public are much more limited than in the United States. While it's not the rule, there's nothing scandalous about a lady drinking a beer on a bus at 1PM.

I would personally recommend trying a bag of Maltesers candies while you're there.
posted by 23 at 5:56 PM on September 18, 2012

Certainly for Germany (I assume Austria is the same, please correct me if I'm wrong), expect to shake a lot of hands, especially for work, and not just the first time you meet someone. So make sure you have a good confident handshake ready.

Other travelling stuff:

- Get a (good) map. Hotel's should have one.
- Read up on where you want to go. Pay particular attention to opening times! Nothing worse than spending your entire time reading the guide book. Rick Steve's and the Lonely Planet are good complimentary guides. Toss in tripadvisor for the reviews. (tripadvisor can also give you a good idea of how busy a place might be based on how many reviews there are).
- As essexjan says, take some (legal) drugs with you. I would also add some sort of headache tablet.
- Have two sources of money and two types of ID, and carry them in different places.
- Read up on how the public transport works, as every system is slightly different, and it's nice to know what to do.

Luckily Austria is a good "first travel country" as the systems are fairly intuitive, people are reasonably polite and helpful, and there's a fair amount of English around. I would get a tiny dictionary to add to the phrasebook, or see if there's an app for your phone.
posted by kjs4 at 6:06 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nearly everyone in Vienna speaks English. Attempts at German are welcome, but people will either correct your grammar or switch to English.

As others have said up thread, use the public transportation system (it's really 1st rate and down right cozy on the older trams), but make sure you have a properly punched ticket. It's really easy to get on a tram or bus without one, but they will check. (The people who check are ninjas, they wear plain clothes and come out of no where.)

I've visited Vienna many times, and I lived there for 2 and half years without ever touching a drop of alcohol. Many places will have Hausgemachten ice teas or other drinks. If not, try an Almdudler.

I'm not sure when you're going, but the Long Night of the Museums is on 06 Oct. It's a good way to see a bunch of the museums at a bargain price after working hours.
posted by chrisulonic at 6:07 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you ask for water, you will most likely get a sparkling water (with gas). If you prefer mineral water you need to specify it.

And definitely try their version of Orange Fanta. It'll surprise you how good it is.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:15 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ask your business contacts in Vienna for recommendations for places to see/restaurants etc. Chances are they'll like to share something about their city and they may lead you to some hidden gems and they'll be able to tell you the best way to get places, too.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:39 PM on September 18, 2012

One more thing, stores in Vienna close at 7:00pm during the week and all day on Sunday. You have to go to separate stores for groceries (Billa, Spar, Hofer, Zielpunkt) and toiletries (Bipa or DM). There are grocery and convenience stores at the train stations that are open 24/7, but they are a mad house on Sundays.
posted by chrisulonic at 6:39 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are some VERY good non-alcoholic beers in Germany. I have a German colleague who prefers non-alcoholic Weissbier versus the alcoholic variety. So, you could say: Ich moechte bitte ein Alcoholfrei bier. There is no stigma toward it like there is in the States (or not nearly as much from what I can gather).
posted by chiefthe at 7:42 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I found Entschuldigung to be a magic word. (entschuldigen Sie mich Ich spreche kein Deutsch, wo ist .....) It immediately seemed to make people more inclined to help, rather than just speaking english - Plus, its polite!

nthing on the tipping in the toilets - DO NOT go anywhere without loose change for this purpose.
posted by insomniax at 8:23 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Leitungswasser is the word for tap water.
The very best nonalcoholic drink is soda zitron: lemon juice and club soda with a little pitcher of liquid sugar on the side(which I didn't use).

The natural history museum has the Venus of willendorf and the military history museum has the clothes Franz Ferdinand was wearing when he was shot.
posted by brujita at 8:41 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're going to be using public transit, find out if there's a way to load a smart-chipped card with money in advance. I am adrift right now in a place where I can barely speak the language, and having one of those cards is a lifesaver. No trying to puzzle out signs, or being surprised by fees... I just keep a ludicrously high amount of money on the card and manage to get where I'm going eventually. It's a load off of my mind and I don't worry so much about getting lost.

I also had someone who speaks the language write out a little card for me that says HELP I AM LOST and gives my address and a polite request to help me find it. I haven't actually had to use it yet, but I keep it on me at all times and it's reassuring to have.
posted by ZeroDivides at 8:41 PM on September 18, 2012

If you're not used to travelling, you'll probably pack far too much stuff, and you'll have packed-tight bags & no room to bring anything back.

You probably need half the clothes you initially think you will - remember that you can buy stuff if needed. Leave some room in your bags for gifts or other stuff you may want to bring back.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 9:26 PM on September 18, 2012

Oh, one other thing which I probably should have mentioned -- I capital-D Don't drink and there is a possibility that there will be a lot of alcohol offered at these events. Is it OK to say the following? "Entschuldigung, ich trinke keine Alkohol."
Or is there a more appropriate/polite way to decline?

If you're at a work event, someone will almost certainly be taking your drink order, rather than just handing you alcohol, so if you don't want alcohol, ask for a cola, or an alkoholfreies bier (which, it's worth noting, usually does contain some traces of alcohol if you're allergic), apfelschorle, water, etc. Particularly if you're at a work event, you won't be the only person not drinking alcohol - drink driving laws are strict so just about everyone who has to drive later will not be drinking much. Telling someone that you don't drink alcohol would be very weird unless they specifically asked you why you weren't drinking alcohol.

Other than what others have said earlier, it's common for people to rap their knuckles on the table after someone finished a presentation at work, as a form of applause instead of clapping. Don't be surprised.

Photocopy your passport photo page and carry that with you, leaving your passport either in your in-room safe (if you have one), or at the front desk.

Try to use up your Euro coins before you leave - currency exchanges rarely accept coins.

Try some Apfelstrudel.

Vienna is crazy expensive, so I hope you have a decent travel expense budget.
posted by cmonkey at 10:35 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think it is more likely that someone will be asking you for a drink order, rather than offering you a beer, which means it would be more natural to just ask for a cola, etc.

Also, something that completely befuddled me that I haven't seen mentioned yet: at least in Germany, locks and doorknobs are very different than in the States. In the U.S. there is usually a lock that you unlock by turning a key (at the most) twice, and then you turn the doorknob to undo the internal latch holding the door closed. Here doorknobs are usually solid and don't turn. Which means that in order to unlock a door, you have to turn the key two and A HALF times in order to get it open. Sometimes with outside doors you just have to do the half turn, and if a door hasn't been totally locked, sometimes you only have to do it one and a half times. But only turning the key twice in a fully-locked door won't help you get inside, even if you've heard the locks moving. So don't forget the extra half turn!
posted by colfax at 12:45 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hi, Austrian here.

As far as public transportation is concerned, look for a vending machine, ticket booth or shop with the “Wiener Linien” logo and just get this thing for 15 €. It is valid for one calendar week, you don’t have to worry about validating it and you break even after 7½ rides (a single ticket is 2 €, plus an extra 0.20 € if you delay the vehicle’s departure by buying your ticket from the driver). Buy the weekly pass, always carry it in your wallet and just forget about it until the next ticket inspection.

The information about water in restaurants in this thread is a little confusing. Simply ask for Leitungswasser (tap water); it’s free and delicious. Mineralwasser usually means sparkling water around here.

Feel free to use “random phrases out of the phrase book.” Austrian German is somewhat different from Federal German, but the latter will be understood perfectly well. Most of what you find in a typical phrase book is going to be basic enough to be exactly the same in both varieties of German anyway.

Finally, if you plan on using your (unlocked, GSM) cell phone a lot while you are in Vienna, you might want to know that mobile communication is extraordinarily cheap in Austria. You could consider the prepaid plan by bob (14.90 € at one of these stores) which comes with 100 free units (outgoing domestic call minutes, texts, or megabytes of mobile data). To recharge, talk to the cashier at one of these shops, look for the 12-digit code on your receipt and call *101*CODE#. And to get 1 GB of data for 4 €, call *111*1#.

Have fun!
posted by wachhundfisch at 1:48 AM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

still_wears_a_hat: "Very important to let your credit and debit (including ATM) card providers know you'll be out of the country, or they may be declined for potential fraud"

This is probably smart for a person who has never traveled to Europe before.

For those who travel more frequently, I've found that whenever I call to tell the credit/debit companies I will be traveling and where and when, my cards get shut off. Whenever I *don't* tell them, my cards are fine.
posted by Grither at 5:09 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're female, take your preferred sanitary protection - there's no guarantee the right ones will be available in a foreign country. I'd be happy enough buying cold remedies or paracetamol abroad if I can speak enough of the language, but having to use products that don't feel as good as what you're used to can be uncomfortable.
posted by mippy at 9:20 AM on September 19, 2012

I always buy a prepaid SIM card in the country I am in. Usually cheaper than AT&T's International package.

The subway in Vienna stop running early, so it's a possibility that you may be stuck somewhere and need to walk or get a cab.

There will be no drip coffee. Everything is Espresso. Coffee is coffee in the morning but as an American there's something satisfying about having a coffee as a drink vs. a ittsy sippy concentrated bit.

If you see "Club-Mate" anywhere BUY IT. It's more prevalent in Germany but I've seen it in other countries. It's a favorite of mine, and anyone that's been in Germany for a while warms up to it.

The whole credit/debit thing is a pain at times. I have no clue why the US hasn't switched the Chip+PIN. ATMs will almost always take your card. I have Chase and there was no ATM fee from the Euro banks, but Chase charged me a nominal fee (IIRC $5?) each time I withdrew so I always took out ~$150 / €110 at a time.

Spend your change every chance you get. If you're not careful you'll end up with a pocket full of €2 coins. When you leave, the money changers won't take coins to exchange back to dollars.

Speaking of coins: Public restrooms at malls, train stations, etc.. (WC) are almost NEVER free. It will cost anywhere from €0.50 - €1.50 depending on where you are. For that fee you get the cleanest public restrooms you've ever had the pleasure of relieving yourself in.
posted by wcfields at 9:31 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Since you're traveling for work you won't get quite the same tourist experience (my first trip to Budapest was for work; sitting in front of a computer isn't very exciting no matter where you are). That said, I really like to keep a journal while I'm traveling to jot down impressions or facts I might want to remember later when regaling friends and family about my travels.

It depends on your disposition, but I also LOVE people-watching in other countries. Go to a nice cafe with windows on the boulevard, have a delicious coffee and pastry, and watch the city go by.
posted by orrnyereg at 7:57 PM on September 19, 2012

Entschuldigung, ich trinke keine Alkohol.

would be: "keinen Alkohol," Alkohol being masculine (for reasons unknown).

Everyone is cool with your only drinking a coke or water or whatever (seconding that Almdudler would be interesting to try), so the "Entschuldigung" is actually not really necessary. If office-style dudes jovially try to bully you into beers (no idea about Vienna, but I could envision this scenario in certain parts of north Germany, f i), just equally jovially decline; force yourself to not feel awkward.
posted by Namlit at 7:02 AM on September 21, 2012

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