Monday, 25 June 2007

In & out: the importance of appearance

Watching TV in Austria is boring. Maybe because of the quite weird location of our flat with respect to the sender antenna. The fact is that we receive very few channels, and none of them is really good. We just turn on TV to watch certain series (Grey's Anatomy, Oliver's Twist, and occasionally some great BBC documentaries). The rest is so boring that it might well be one of the reasons behind this blog! :)

Anyway, one of the shows that we watch from time to time is ATV+'s Bauer sucht Frau (farmer looks for wife). It is a so-called docu-soap --kind of a reality show that is cut and edited with a narrator's commentary-- in which a group of farmers are presented with two women each, who are willing to be his partner and help him with the farm. The women then spend a week in the farm and then the farmer chooses one, and if the one agrees, that's it!

Funny situations apart, there is something that stroke us. One of the first things that one may notice when exploring the Austrian countryside is that houses seem to be very cared for: flowers are neatly arranged on every balcony, gardens are perfectly disposed, garden gnomes included, everything looks just perfect, even though the cats that go hunting when the sun begins to fade. The house would be ready to welcome, say, the Queen. I am cool with that. The houses that appear at Bauer sucht Frau are no exception to that rule. But this time, and thanks to reality TV, we were able to look inside. And, oh man, what a contrast! Most of the rooms were completely devoid of charm: a wardrobe, a bed and that's it. Unbearably soulless. Barracks are cozier.

Yes, I know. Such houses tend to be really big, and it's not easy and probably not really necessary to furnish every single room. But who says that every single room has to be furnished? If the house is too big, well, you just take care of a couple of rooms. The whole thing appeared to me like proof of an intrinsic Austrian feature (I think I might be seeing too many "intrinsic Austrian features" these days...). What is really important is how does my house look like. To the outside. To the people looking at it. To the neighbours. To people passing by. The inside? Well, that doesn't seem so important.

How important is appearance to Austrians? I would say, generalising of course, that it is actually very important. Let's take Salzburg as an example. Salzburg seems all about the looks to me. There is no week without a letter to the editor complaining about the last piece of modern art that spoils the beauty of the Old Town or how inappropriate and evil open air concerts in the middle of a UNESCO Heritage Site are. Incidentally, there is a funny T-shirt that I saw once, wore by a random guy in Salzburg, with the word KulturERBsenzähler, which is a wordplay between Kulturerbe (Heritage Site) and Erbsenzähler (bean counter, nitpicker). Living in Salzburg feels like living in a film set sometimes. Everything is clean, proper and perfect. It doesn't look like a city where people do live, it looks more like a please-take-your-photo-from-here city.

But what applies to the city applies to its residents as well. People seem to be very conscious of their appearance. Not only because of the "stylish" Dolce & Gabbana outfits or the huge Chanel sunglasses that you may encounter --the bigger the D and G, the better... (more about that soon!)-- it's also the way people stand, the way people sit in a Café, the way people look at you at the bus... they are not relaxed, they are posing! We have been in Berlin a couple of times, and we loved the way people sat around in bars and Cafés. They look relaxed, precisely because they don't care about how they look. I think that's something that we miss from Barcelona. In fact, we first realised many things that we miss from Barcelona as we left Berlin.

People in Salzburg do not look relaxed. If you care too much about the looks, you cannot relax. People here care too much about their appearance. The top look-at-me event is the Salzburg Festival. Local and international jet set meets here around July, officially to listen to opera, basically to be seen. On especially grand venues, with assured presence of VIPs, plain people mass at the doors of the Opera House, all dressed up, to try getting a glance of Caroline, Princess of Hanover. Some of the operas of the Festival can be watched on a big screen at Kapitelplatz. If you go there, you are not going to the opera, you just go to see an opera on the screen. Nevertheless, some of the people are all dressed up.

I think appearance is not that important. At least, not important enough to prevent you from comfortably sitting in a Café and enjoying your mélange.


christina said...

This is a very insightful post. I've noticed a lack of soul in German houses as well. Very sterile, like nobody really lives in them.

Thanks for linking to me, BTW. :-)

Tonicito said...

Thanks for your comment!, and for linking to me, too!
I also noticed that in houses in Southern Germany, I didn't know how it was up North. In fact, Austria and Germany are not that different (please don't tell anyone that I said that! :D)
I like houses where people do live, and I like cities where people do live: dirty, broken, messy... in a word, alive. Otherwise you live in a postcard!