Sunday morning we went up the hill to have a little lunch and to hang out with some folks who own a restaurant up there. The husband has been friends with these folks, well, forever, the way you are friends with people in a small town where you all go to tiny schools together. Itâ€™s a very traditional postcard kind of village. The staff dress the part in their lederhosen and dirndls. Oh, and the food is quite good, plus, the chef is really a nice guy, I like him.
We arrived shortly after church got out. The neighbors were hanging out, eating cookies and drinking beer and wine â€“ all this before 11 am! â€“ and chatting about pretty much nothing, like you do with your friends when you run in to them at your local coffee house. We were sitting at the â€˜stammtischâ€™ â€“ the table thatâ€™s set aside for regulars, having tea, and three guys from the other room sat down to join us.
I know one of the guys from way back when I first started coming to Austria. He asked me if I was still â€œworking for Billâ€ â€“ a position that has a cache here that it just doesnâ€™t hold in Seattle. The talk turned to health insurance (Austria is beginning to privatize) and language, and as it does when you have an auslander in your midst, to travel.
The older guy across the table from me (who I haven’t met before) talked about how, during the early 60s, heâ€™d lived in Australia. He had to return to Austria when he got news that his mother was quite ill, and shortly after he got back her, she died. He never returned to Melbourne, where heâ€™d lived as a young man. Finally, just a few years ago he went back.
He was shocked at what he saw. The place was overrun with Chinese. â€œThe Australians, they havenâ€™t got a chance. The Chinese are everywhere. I have to say, having gone back and seen what happened there, I am glad it turned out that I stayed here in Austria.â€
I was struck speechless. I am seldom at a loss for words, but as I looked at this seemingly cultured â€˜gentlemanâ€™ nursing a glass of red wine, a speaker of excellent English, and a world traveler, spewing racism, I didnâ€™t know what to say. I stared at him, round eyed, before finding my voice.
Thereâ€™s some statistic somewhere that states that one in four humans on the planet are Chinese. I donâ€™t know if thatâ€™s true anymore, but I do know that since my brother married my sister-in-law in Beijing more than 15 years ago, one in four people in my family is Chinese. When you go after the Chinese, you go after my family. My nephew, a kid in big pants who works at an artisan bakery. My sister-in-law, who knitted the scarf tucked in the sleeve of my coat hanging just over there, on the coat rack.
When people ask me why I donâ€™t move to Austria, these kinds of experiences are what come up. Maybe I could rationalize that some old guy in an old village shouldnâ€™t color my perception of what Austrians are like. When I get all worked up over stuff like this, the husband says Iâ€™m as likely to hear the same kind of crap out of a guy at the counter at a diner in Montana. Yeah, okay. But. I resent the fact that Iâ€™m the one thatâ€™s shocked while most folks to take this kind of racism as harmless.
I have been watching, with great interest, the news about Turkey and the EU. I canâ€™t believe the noncommittal â€œWe agree to talk to you about it a lot later with no promises to let you joinâ€ stance that the EU has taken. A lot of the objections by EU member nations look like racism to me. Marauding hoards of Islamic peasants, stealing their jobs, sponging off welfare, locking up their womenâ€¦lions and tigers and bears! Oh my! Iâ€™m not saying that the Turks donâ€™t have serious human rights issues, and good lord, if the EU takes on the problem of the Kurds, thatâ€™s one big can of worms. But the racist overtones are too loud to ignore â€“ at least to my sensitive ears they are.
Maybe I need to get a thicker skin at times like this. But what Iâ€™d really like are better reflexes. Itâ€™s the shock that slows me down. I need to carry a whistle. Thatâ€™s the thing about racism in Austria, and in Europe in general, in my experience. Itâ€™s not like itâ€™s everywhere, itâ€™s not like it’s a stop on your itinerary. Thankfully, it’s rare in my experience, and honestly, most Austrians are perfectly fine humans with open minds and hearts. But you know how when you go hiking in bear country, youâ€™re supposed to be prepared? I never leave my house prepared to confront racists in Seattle. Here itâ€™s a different story.