Monday, June 29, 2020

Brings out People

In the first weeks of isolation many people remarked that the exceptional circumstances everyone found themselves in served as some kind of social glue and people seemed to be friendlier, more helpful and mindful of others. Random strangers suddenly greeted one another, young people offered to go grocery shopping for their elderly neighbours and all was rainbow-coloured and harmonious.
Well, that benevolent atmosphere seems to have evaporated. Every household in Vienna was supposed to have received restaurant vouchers (redeemable at one of many restaurants in Vienna who had registered for the programme) last week at the latest. It's not that I am in desperate need of the 25 EUR a single household is entitled to and was in fact thinking about donating it, but I had not questioned finding it in my postbox at all. When I did not, it dawned on me that it might have "disappeared". A quick Google search revealed that in fact a lot of people never got theirs and there were instances of whole sets of postboxes having been vandalised just in order to get those vouchers (and resell them online on some classifieds site). To be honest, I felt both naive and mildly disgusted. There's a small chance that upon my next visit to Vienna I might find a delayed voucher in the post, but it's even more likely that it got stolen. If somebody really needed it to prevent imminent starvation (rather unlikely) they are more than welcome to it but if this was not the case...well, I just hope that karma really is a b**** .

Monday, June 22, 2020

Everyone's a Suspect

In the suburban country house and its immediate surroundings I only have minimal exposure to strangers and there are days when I forget that there's a pandemic at large. Whenever I am back in Vienna and on public transport in particular, there is this air of "everyone's a suspect" (for being a potential virus-transmitter) and it's weird. All of a sudden, the "innocent until proven guilty" rule does not seem to apply any more and you just have to expect the worst of everyone. When people bump into you again, queuing at the supermarket check-out line, not respecting your private space, you automatically take a step away, slightly worried. As somebody who tends not to assume the worst of anyone when first meeting them, it makes me both sad and uncomfortable and I wonder how long it will take until the close proximity of strangers won't make us (me!) get slightly panicky.

Monday, June 15, 2020

When Plan B is Actually Better than Plan A

As life is getting back to normal here in Austria and I can indulge in pretty much all my favourite activities again and meet up with friends I realise that I don't want to do all the things I could do again. 
Like going back to the office, which is possible for 50% of employees at our company from today. Nope, happy to stay on in home office and really glad I can do that for now. 
Another case in point: flying. My favourite airline that happens to be Highflyer's employer survived the crisis (for now) and resumes operations today. I don't know if the flights and related vacations I booked months ago for August and September respectively are going to happen, but if they don't I'm just as happy to stay in Austria. I am definitely not planning to book any vacations abroad for now, much as I would like to support the ailing hospitality industry. Not lying, I do actually miss airports and flying, but I can handle those withdrawal symptoms for now...
This past Friday and Saturday I had module 3 of 4 of a course on conflict management and mediation I am taking and at first I was not amused to find out it would be in virtual form, via Zoom this time. The prospect of spending additional hours in video calls on top of my regular work calls did not appeal to me one bit. Ultimately, I felt less knackered than after the previous two modules, not only because we ended a little earlier, but also because I did not have to drive to the back of beyond by car, have to drink the horrible vending machine coffee of the usual venue and the virtual breakout sessions were just as productive than the live ones. Plus that one participant who always spoke with an annoyingly low voice could be understood perfectly thanks to the microphone of her headset. The fourth module will be held in person at an alternative venue that allows for social distancing, but I would not have minded if it was via Zoom again. 

Monday, June 08, 2020

Nothing Will Be the Same

When I was about to embark on my 3-months-sabbatical, or rather unpaid leave, in 2015 some colleagues said goodbye with an ominous "you'll see when you come back: nothing will be the same". I laughed them off, knowing that the three months would just fly by and they did. Nothing life-changing happened. I enjoyed a lovely summer break, returned with a great tan and the realisation that I did not like travelling in Japan on my own as much as I would have thought. Meanwhile, there had been a reorg at the office (but I was used to those) and the team I worked in had a new name. Soon afterwards, I was told I had to find myself a new job as my old one was being discontinued. That was way more life-changing than my sabbatical had been.
In many ways, the eleven weeks of self-isolation/quarantine/home-office I spent at Highflyer's house in Lower Austria felt like a sabbatical or rotation of sorts as I was not in my usual habitat. Bewildering external circumstances apart, I felt incredibly privileged and even though I spent way too many hours at my desk and only had a few days of vacation, it was a very special "time out" of reality as we both knew it and above all, the clichéd phrase of "quality time" got a new meaning. In all those weeks that we spent together 24/7 we never once fought or even bickered and I suppose it was a stress test of sorts. The fact that I was surprised with a proposal almost 4 weeks ago was only the icing on the cake (I said "yes", by the way) of weeks of blissful cohabitation. 
These strange weeks that I spent in the suburbs not only taught me that there was nobody else I would rather spend time with than my housemate, but that I still loved drawing (pictured above are some of my "Skype Call doodles") and sewing and that I had in fact inherited some of the gardening passion from my father's side of the family, even if it only meant sowing some rocket salad and making sure the potted basil got on well. 
I'm still allowed to work from home for the time being and will divide my time between the "country house" and "city flat". Life in Vienna feels almost normal even if there are still a few places where you need to wear a mask, but I know deep down that I am not quite the same person I was at the beginning of March and I am only getting to know her. 

Monday, June 01, 2020

We're All Estonians Now

As we are officially  allowed to socialise again within certain restrictions, I've already exchanged lots of distant air kisses with friends and family and managed to avoid handshakes with strangers who I have been introduced to. It's absolutely manageable and I don't really struggle with it at all. It has made me realise that this virus is a cultural equaliser of sorts, actually. No more awkward decisions whether you are supposed to kiss people on the cheek when meeting them for the first time, exchange handshakes or bow to a certain degree, depending on the other person's social status (this one still remains tricky...), but a perfunctory nod or "namaste" is suddenly universally understood. 
A few years ago, when I was on a "lecture tour" or rather gave product trainings in the Balkans and Baltics, I noticed a very distinct difference in audience engagement depending on the country I was in. From friendly, chatty Bulgarians who would come and ask me personal questions in the breaks and tell me that Vienna was by far their favourite city to Estonians who would sit through my half-day trainings without a smile or raised hand. At the beginning, I found this rather unsettling and could not help but wonder if I was in particularly bad form that day and about to put them all to sleep. I ended up asking an Estonian partner and she told me not to worry because "deep inside they are very happy. They just don't show it." Now that hugs and kisses are reserved for the people who live in your household, we're all restrained Estonians in a way.
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