Interview with Heide Marie Fischer from Vienna (Austria) living in Stevensweert
Limburg, a really special place to live. I am grateful!
My name is Heide Marie Fischer. I moved from Vienna, Austria to Maastricht in the summer of 1997. In Vienna after graduating from the University of Economics and Business Administration I founded and managed the BBRZ; a vocational education institute for disabled people.
As with many of us, the trigger for moving was love. During a quality-management conference in Limburg, I fell in love with my husband and decided to leave my (heavy) job and (beautiful) country for the Netherlands. When I arrived here I did speak nor understand a word of Dutch and I was looking for a job. By then Maastricht did not have so much to offer for me and I had to go to Brussels in order to join an English-speaking Multinational.
Helpful, but not helpful
On arrival, I subscribed immediately to a language course in Maastricht but had to leave for Brussels after a few weeks. So my learning process for mastering the Dutch language was on hold for a whole year.
By then the common language between my husband and me was English. When I moved back from Brussels to the Netherlands we switched to him speaking Dutch to me and me speaking German to him. After a year of heavy reading, watching TV and listening to songs written in Dutch I decided that I had to start with speaking Dutch. During these days I got to know Dutch literature. I left a country with a rich writing culture and it felt very comforting to continue with reading great literature, yet in another language.
It was very very difficult. Because one the characteristics of the Dutch people is to –in my case- immediately switch to German in order to be helpful. Well they could not know that this was not helpful at all for my learning process! So my most spoken phrase back in 1999 was ‘Ik zou graag Nederlands willen leren spreken’!
This illustrates already one of the main differences with Austria. However, times have changed also over there. If Austrians switch, they switch mainly to English whereas here in Limburg people easily switch between Dutch, German, English and French. Truly amazing!
Limburgian and Vorarlbergerisch
The fifth and most important language is ‘Limburgs’ – the dialect which I never mastered to speak up until now. By now I can understand most dialects – every village has a slightly different accent – a kind of mystery to me. Same is true for Austria where the dialects differ from region to region. Limburgs is then best comparable to ‘Vorarlbergerisch’ – the little small country neighbor of Tirol next to Switzerland.
In Austria you put your shoes off immediately when entering a house – also when the weather is fine! I can remember a situation in the Netherlands when a Dutch guest put off his shoes and put them under the table in the living room!
What I missed most in the beginning in 1999 was the broad offering of bread I was used to in Austria. Could not find it back then here in NL. This is really past time. Nowadays there is bread in every thinkable combination of grains and seeds.
Lunch culture and working
When I started my first job in a Dutch speaking company I had to get used to the ‘kantine’ culture for the lunch break. In Austria I was used to having a warm meal during lunch! It is obvious that the ‘lunchcultuur’ since then has undergone a tremendous change. And that the ‘fast snacks’ are also past time here.
In 2000 I was working for the Zuyd University of Applied Sciences (Hogeschool Zuyd) as tutor. I accompanied students in the project-based learning groups. In the meanwhile, I was capable to write documents in Dutch and coach students with their Dutch language skills. One of my finest experiences of working in the Netherlands was when I joined the Montessori elementary school in Helmond as a head-master. A very innovative community of schools also based in Weert, Venlo, Venray.
In 2004 I decided to start my company ‘lifelining’. Via ‘lifelining’ my husband and me offer media-productions, change management and soul coaching. A broad range of activities which allow us to connect with very interesting, creative and innovative people.
Living in the Netherlands was despite of all the differences a sort of home coming to me. After all these years in this country I am convinced that I have been living here in a former life. I got integrated very easily even though I really had to get used to some Dutch customs.
I felt immediately comfortable here – which is not difficult if you start in Maastricht of course.
Maastricht is a wonderful city with a high quality living standard. Small but beautiful. Surrounded by the gorgeous places such as the St. Pietersberg. There up on the hill you can enjoy beautiful views on Maastricht and wonderful meals at the Chalet ‘Bergrust’. You can use this Chalet as a starting point for beautiful walks on the St. Pietersberg.
Dominicanen and Peace
My favorite place in Maastricht is the ‘Dominicanen Kerk’. One of the most beautiful bookshops in the world. In 2012 we started to film a couple of film-projects there, together with Mine Stemkens, a Maastricht based Art Performer and Poet who works closely together with students of the United World College. It was a privilege to witness the creativity and the enthusiasm of professionals and students in the attempt to make peace between different cultures happen.
In 2012 I started to look for other Austrians living in the Netherlands. I was quite stunned to hear from the Austrian Embassy that about 230 Austrians live in Limburg!
Since 2012 -together with Austrian friends- I organize meet-ups with fellow Austrians.
Documentaries and Honorary Consul
Together with my husband and the Limburg Honorary Consul for Austria I started a film-pilot project aiming at interviewing representatives of Austrian and Dutch companies. In both countries sustainability is booming whether is in the high-tech industry or tourism other innovative fields.
Music connecting the Languages
Comparing the languages, I found a wonderful similarity. Austrians tend to ‘sing’ their words exactly the same way as the Dutch is ‘sung’ by people living in Limburg. That made it very easy for me to embrace the language.
Are you Flemish?
My most thrilling experience concerning me speaking Dutch is the –flattering- question ‘whether I would be originated from Belgium’! I love that of course. I am extremely fond of the Flemish language. Quite different, yet pure words compared to Dutch. I guess that the Flemish enters different parts of our brains and hearts or something like that. I am still figuring this out.
In the first years I found it difficult to get confronted with a very stereotypical image of Austria. For the Dutch, Austria consisted of Sissi (short name for the late Empress Elisabeth) and the mountains of Tirol for skiing or mountaineering. During the past years I am happy to see a shift happening towards a broader perspective on Austria. I meet more often people who have been to Vienna or other parts of Austria.
I am extremely fond of Vienna – where I still have an apartment – and I tend to act as a true ambassador for the culture of my favorite city by sharing my enthusiasm via facebook. This has not changed even though I –in the meantime- also love Maastricht, Utrecht, Amsterdam, Haarlem, Amersfoort, Leiden and Breda. Or Paris or Rome.
Living in Vienna -on a daily basis- I asked myself: ‘where shall I go to tonight’? Opera, theater, jazz-concert, classical concert, Musikverein, Konzerthaus, etc. etc. Just round the corner. With exception of the opera every evening – everything is offered here in Limburg as well, what I love very much. The Vrijthof Theater, the Parkstad Theater are wonderful places. I also recommend to visit the ‘Laagland Theater’ for kids in the Theater ‘Domein’ in Sittard.
What truly is amazing here is the ‘terrasjes’ culture. In every town, in every color and shape. Very, very nice. Even during wintertime. As soon as the temperature allows it -with the help of little heaters- people will sit in the plain air with their coats and jackets on, wrapped in blankets having their favorite beer, wine, tea and coffee. You won’t find that in Austria.
Right now I live in Stevensweert; a tiny but great village. It is built by the Spanish in ~ 1630 and is situated about midway between Eindhoven and Maastricht. When I compare the village life in Austria and here I see many similarities. You step out of your house and you say hallo to your neighbor passing by. What differs is the way we say hello in Austria.
In Austria people who do not know each other say: ‘Grüss Gott’ to each other. They pay reverence to ‘God’. It is a nice habit. It even happened to us when we were on vacation in beautiful Salzkammergut. Children leaving school saying ‘Griass Di’ and ‘Grüss Gott’ to us. Felt a bit like the Indian ‘Namasté’- ‘I greet the God in you’!
Thinking of the beautiful landscapes of Austria – too many to sum them up here – reminds me of the times when I went back in the beginning to visit family and friends. When we crossed the border to Austria I immediately started crying. Did not know why because I did not have ‘Heimweh’ – Homesickness – at all. I was in contact with my family and friends via Skype and phone.
Later I realized that it was the Austrian ‘earth’ -my roots- speaking to me! Here the ‘Limburgse Heuvelland’ is a wonderful landscape for walking. It is comparable to the south of the Steiermark where hilly vineyards and the colors of the well – known ‘green-oil-pumpkin’ during harvest time gave the landscape the name ‘Tuscany’ of Austria’.
A few weeks ago a new travel-magazine was launched. ‘Oostenrijk’ – Austria. It is made by a Dutch couple who are true Austria Lovers. They cover pretty much the whole country and speak right from my heart as far as Vienna is concerned. In the first issue they talk about the ‘coffee houses’ in Vienna. A must see and -experience in Vienna!
And yes, it was very, very difficult to get used to the ‘coffee culture’ here. When in Vienna it is impossible to order a cup of coffee – because there are 20 different kinds of – here you just order a cup of coffee! And they bring you coffee without asking difficult questions! And they won’t serve a glass of water with it. This is standard in Austria everywhere. Even in small villages.
Funny differences: ‘Jij’ en ‘U’
Even though in the Netherlands there is also a distinct difference between the ‘je -you’ (‘tu’) and the ‘U-you’ (‘vous’) it is much easier here to ‘tutoyer’ someone. In business in Austria it is common to keep a distinct distance by using the ‘U-you’. In Germany this habit is even more extreme than in Austria.
What I (now) find very funny in Austria is the way how academic titles are used. In Austria you are obliged to use your title with your name. It is even part of your official -legal- signature. When I came here, the first thing I noticed was, that my academic title did not matter at all!!! And that in companies they did not use titles on nametags . In Austria titles are all over the place a leftover from the ‘Kaiserzeit’ I guess..
Burgundy way of life
What I find very similar in both cultures is the ‘burgundy’ way of living and working. Everything has a touch of ‘Gemuetlichkeit’ which makes the working life a bit more relaxed and human.
One last remark which I want to make here – I just could go on and on with writing – is the shared value of ‘hospitality’. Last month my mother, 78 years old, was visiting me and we took her to friends and families. The warm welcome – she only speaks Austrian dialect – she got was very, very special. What a heart-warming aspect of the Netherlands!
Limburg, a really special place to live. I am grateful!
I did not yet find a proper way to share my enthusiasm about the two countries. I am thinking to start a ‘vlog’ (video blog) in near future though.
We would like to thank: International Women’s Club of South Limburg: http://iwc-sl.nl/ for their help and their contribution.