Don't make assumptions, we're Austrian

Tue, Oct 16, 2012, 01:00

THAT'S MEN:Lives unfold while people-watching in Austria, writes PADRAIG O'MORAIN

A BAR in Salzburg: A stout man in a conservative suit – the sort of suit more appropriate to the office than to a Friday night out – comes in with his girlfriend.

They sit for a while in silence. It’s an awkward silence. The man looks uneasy. I assume he is not the romantic sort and that he would feel more at home with a spreadsheet than with this girlfriend.

When the barman comes to take their order each defers with a silent gesture to the other. There is something inexpressibly gentle, even respectful in their gestures. They order beer and tea, the beer for him and the tea for her.

When the beer arrives, they study it and have a conversation about it. The conversation is in German so I don’t know what they’re saying but they get a lot of talk out of that beer before he even sips it. When he takes the first good, long sip, another burst of talk follows. Then silence.

She takes something shyly out of her handbag and hands it to him. He removes it from its wrapping. It’s a small box of cigars. Another burst of talk. The barman comes over and sits down and examines the box of cigars.

When he is called away by a couple who have just come in, the man in the suit shyly kisses his girlfriend.

The bar, in Linzer Gasse, is located in the reception area of an old-fashioned hotel, with old-fashioned furniture and the head of a wild cow on the wall.

Sitting there is like having a front-row seat for a low-key performance in a theatre where drinks are served throughout the proceedings.

A young Indian couple come in and sit down. They order one beer. The barman waits for the second order. Just one beer. It’s for the man.

My mind rushes to all sorts of prejudiced judgments about women being forced to play a subservient role. But it becomes clear as they laugh and talk while he drinks his beer that this is a relationship of equals.

I even get the impression that she might be the leader of the two. I had thought the man in the suit too stuffy for tenderness, and now this. So much for my ability to read people.

“Excuse me please.” The couple who have just come in have an usual request for any bar at eleven o’clock on a Friday night.

“May we please have two cups of tea?” the man asks politely, even nervously in what English speakers would call a German accent, though as this is German-speaking Austria so that’s not it.

“No,” the barman says emphatically.

The man considers for a while.

“Some hot water then?”


The couple take themselves disconsolately to their room, the man dragging himself along with a limp.

Fifteen minutes pass. The man returns. He limps to the bar.

“I feel still the need for something to warm me up,” he declares.

The barman waits. We all wait. The man waits as if considering this matter for the first time. Then:



“Yes, yes, cognac,” the man says as though he has just now definitively made up his mind.

The barman pours him a fine, big measure of cognac in a fine, big glass.

The man limps off with his prize and with a very, very large grin on his face. On the way past our table he makes a happy joke I don’t understand.

I suspect he was glad they didn’t have tea. And where was his wife in all this? Asleep and oblivious perhaps? Or am I wrong again?

All this was observed in the Wein Bar of the Hotel Stadtkrug which I recommend to people watchers. If you’re a bright young thing, head for the nearby Havana Bar instead.

(Neither of these establishments has paid me to say nice things about them nor, unfortunately, did they ply me with free booze. Or even tea.)

Padraig O’Morain ( is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind – Mindfulness for Daily Living, is published by Veritas. His monthly mindfulness newsletter is available free by email.

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