No Kangaroos in Austria, nothing Swiss about Swiss Cheese
"No Kangaroos in Austria" t-shirts in all colours and sizes scream from their racks in souvenir shops everywhere in the Euro 2008 host nation of Austria.
Like its co-host Switzerland, the alpine republic suffers from a being subject number of cliches, some to the chagrin of locals, while others have been consciously nourished.
Being confused with antipodean Australia is a joke Austrians have learnt to live with, but being confused with neighbouring Germany goes down less well, being a sure-fire way to raise Austrian hackles.
One true cliche centres on the Austrians’ love for food – the bigger, the better.
Locals love their Schnitzel, a deep fried veal cutlet covered in bread crumbs, served with potato salad – and if it does not completely cover the plate, it is not done properly.
The same goes for the famous Sachertorte cake or apple strudel, another popular dessert.
Austrian tourism officials may play up the Mozart, Lederhosen and coffee house cliches, but draw the line at "Edelweiss".
Contrary to popular belief, the song which gained world fame in the 1965 Oscar-winning movie The Sound of Music is not an Austrian folk tune, but was written by composers Rodgers and Hammerstein for the Broadway musical about the singing von Trapp family.
Incidentally, locals loathe The Sound of Music, regarding it as the ultimate kitsch. One is hard-pressed to find an Austrian who admits to have seen the movie, and even fewer like it.
One aspect may be that it reminds them too much of the country’s Nazi past, which many Austrians want to see dead and buried.
Which brings us to another, carefully nourished misconception about Austria’s most famous sons.
According to a popular local saying, it was one of Austria’s greatest achievements to make everyone believe Hitler was German and Beethoven Austrian.
Adolf Hitler was born in the small Austrian town Braunau on the German border and took German nationality only in 1932. Composer Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, in 1770 but settled in Vienna in his twenties.
Efficiency, tolerance and good organization have long been seen as classic virtues along with sound banking practise, sensible government and good timekeeping in the other Euro 2008 host nation of Switzerland.
That was, however, before the biggest Swiss bank UBS became the world’s biggest institutional victim of the US subprime crisis, its most popular political party imploded in a bitter catfight and Swiss dairy farmers went on strike over the price of a litre of milk.
While the Swiss "brand" has taken a hammering, one myth happily remaining untarnished is that of Heidi; the children’s literary character by author Johanna Spyri turned million-dollar tourist industry, including Heidiland themeparks for Japanese tourists.
If myths must be debunked, let it be Swiss Cheese. There is little Swiss about it, citizens will gladly tell you.
It is just the name for a generic product made in Australia, New Zealand and the United States that has only a passing resemblance to the big-holed Emmental cheese, which Swiss regard as their archetypical cheese.
(DPA – Expatica June 2008)
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