Holly: Comedic Grievances
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Vienna, etc.
My name is Holly Kooi — that’s Kooi with a long “oo” and not an “oi” like the fish. Based off of our last name alone, most assume my family and I are of Asian descent, but we’re actually Dutch, or so my husband tells me. I grew up in a suburb outside of Atlanta, Georgia then moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for college. As a college sophomore in 2008, I traveled to and studied in Vienna, Austria with a large group of fellow university students. I fell completely head over heels in love with the city and its culture and knew I’d be back one day.
Shortly after my semester in Vienna, I met my sweet husband. Upon discovering our mutual love for The Beatles, I knew he was the one and we married in 2011. A year later, we moved to Vienna to intern for a church and non-profit. Our internship ended in 2014, but we’ve been brought on as full-time employees and plan to stay in Vienna for at least the next 5 years.
We had our first baby last September and now I know that motherhood is the greatest, craziest job in the world. Whenever my little man decides to sleep, I steal away to write, drink coffee, eat all the dark chocolate, or nap. Sometimes I do housework, but you know *shrug*.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I began blogging several years ago but started to write specifically about Vienna the moment I knew we were moving. My goal in writing is and always has been to impact someone somewhere in the world through storytelling, whether it be by making them laugh, smile or pause for a moment to consider a world view different from their own.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
One of my favorite posts is one I wrote a couple of years ago about an enormous culture shock-induced meltdown I had in my kitchen. I had lived in Vienna for 6 months and naively thought I’d escaped culture shock, but it snuck up on me nonetheless in culinary form: Worst of Culture Shock, Part 1: War in the Kitchen
A second favorite of mine is one about the time some friends and I were surrounded by a shocking number of nude, elderly Austrians. This experience was not on purpose, in case you were wondering and/or concerned: No Clothes, No Problem
Tell us about the ways your new life in Vienna differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I live a much more relaxed, slow-paced life in Vienna than I did in the States. I’m definitely busy, but it’s a different kind of busy. I’ve always felt the people here work to live — not the other way around. To me this is evidenced by such examples as the early closing time hours of shops, the importance of family holidays and vacations, and the “shut down” of the city on Sundays — to name a few.
Right off the bat, I didn’t have much trouble getting used to my new surroundings. There were certainly some frustrations, like the crazy amount of time it took for us to finally find a place to live or to get our internet set up, but I was so deep in the “Honeymoon Phase”, I thought I was immune to culture shock. Culture shock crept up on me, and still does from time to time, in unexpected ways — in the kitchen, language-learning, Viennese traditions.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Vienna? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I think my husband and I may have had a slight advantage preparing for Vienna since we’d both lived in the city before, but if I had to do it over, our preparation would’ve looked quite a bit different. First and most importantly, we should have researched the necessary visa much more intensely. Our initial lack of research led us through a maze of complications and neither of us want that headache again. Second, we should have looked for apartments in advance rather than starting from scratch upon our arrival. And third (this one was learned only 6 months ago during our transition back to Vienna after a 7 month stay in the U.S.), we should have picked a time to return to Vienna that wasn’t in the dead of winter. We learned the hard way that not only is culture shock and reverse culture shock an unpleasant experience, but the two are even more unpleasant to experience without the presence of the sun.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
About a month or two in, I went to IKEA by myself. At the time I didn’t speak or understand any German and I was terrified of being spoken to in stores, specifically at check-out. Unfortunately for me, it seemed that every cashier in every store had some question for the buying customer. I observed that, naturally, some customers would respond with a simple “ja” or “nein” and be on their way. I didn’t know what they were or were not agreeing to, but I assumed “nein” would be the best answer for me in all check-out situations in case I was offered a year-long subscription for a store magazine or accidentally bought a credit card. So this was my rule — “nein”. But this rule backfired at the check-out at IKEA. I wanted to pay with my card, but in order to do so, the cashier needed to see my I.D. I didn’t understand her question so our conversation played out like this:
Cashier: Can I see your I.D.?
Cashier: I can’t see your I.D.?
Cashier: Is this your credit card?
Cashier: It’s not your credit card?
The cashier jumped on the phone to talk to her boss about the possibility of me trying to pay with a stolen credit card. I had no idea what was going on and began to panic. In very poor German, I asked the cashier if my card wasn’t working. Her eyes grew big and her whole body relaxed as I heard her say “American” on the phone. The cashier had a good laugh, I paid for my stuff, and I threw out my “nein” rule.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Vienna?
- One, don’t try to live in two places. Live where you are, experience what’s around you.
- Two, learn the language. Vienna will love you for it, and you’ll be so glad for those key words and phrases you have to help you get around.
- Three, seek out friendships with the locals. There’s no better way to immerse yourself in a culture than to have friends around you who are part of it.
How is the expat community in Vienna? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community here is great. There are several different groups on Facebook filled with expats from all over the world. Based on my experience in the American-expat group, most are friendly and willing to give advice and/or help. There’s something for everyone. If you like to read, there’s probably a book club. If you’re a mom, there’s the Vienna Babies Club. If you’re in to ultimate frisbee or, I don’t know, rugby? Probably clubs for both of those sports. Personally, once I narrowed down the type of expat group I wanted to be part of, I was able to make friends and find expats with whom I had much in common. There are a lot of possibilities for expats in this city.
How would you summarize your expat life in Vienna in a single, catchy sentence?
Seeking knowledge, culture and coffee.