By: Sarah P.
A while ago, I read a student’s college essay where he endeavored to answer the question, “How has your neighborhood impacted you?” I say ‘endeavored’ because it was a struggle to wade through his four-part explanation of how all the neighborhoods he’s lived in since birth have shaped his identity. (Word count met? Check.) But then I thought about the question, clichéd as it may be: How would I answer it?
Last March I moved from the 22nd district (Donaustadt) in Vienna to the 10th (Favoriten). This most likely means nothing to you, but, to me, it meant I no longer had a 45-60 minute commute to the city center and that I would be giving up green suburbia for a more urban concrete jungle. I was also surprised to encounter some pretty harsh bias about what life would be like living in the 10th. How could I possibly want to move to the 10th where crime rates are high because sinister foreigners are marauding around the streets? (I may be embellishing here, but you get the idea) I was told (not so affectionately) that I would be moving to “little Istanbul” …still failing to see the issue here, people. Most major cities in the western world have microcosms of international communities – why should Vienna be any different?
The 10th is on the south side of Vienna and has historically always been a “blue collar” district. Stereotypes abound already. Numbers of inhabitants in the 10th have fluctuated over the years (a direct result of two World Wars among other events), but today about 202,000 of Vienna’s population live in Favoriten. About 43% of that population is foreign – I guess I’m contributing to that statistic. But most of the non-Austrians are from a Balkan country (Serbia mainly) and Turkey. And apparently, for many Austrians, this is problematic.
When I was going through the process of moving to the 10th, two co-workers who helped me with procedures and translating both had disparaging remarks about living in this district. Will I be able to handle the loud parties that are sure to go on with all my Balkan neighbors? Have you looked in other districts? Are you sure it’s the safest choice? Both of these co-workers are Austrian citizens, but their family origins are not. I’m not sure either of them has ever lived in the 10th. I find myself starting to feel indignant and defensive now when I tell people where I live – to people who are just repeating flimsy bias they most likely heard from someone else.
Granted, there needs to be give and take on both sides of this issue. To gain some perspective, I casually surveyed friends and co-workers about their perceptions of the 10th and about the prevalent bias against people who live there. I heard stories how various Austrians had reached out to people in the Turkish community but had no success in establishing relationships. One friend said that in his experience, much of the Turkish community he’s interacted with is not interested in assimilating. If certain minority communities are choosing not to integrate into society at large, there are going to be consequences. This isn’t new.
But my experience living in the 10th? Well, I’m still here to tell the tale…this can only be a good sign. I still have a lot more to explore in my neighborhood, but I have discovered that Turkish grocery stores have some of the absolute best produce and spices I’ve ever tasted. Turkish cinnamon has changed my life. Do I see more women in hijabs than other areas of Vienna? Yes. Is there a Turkish café on almost every corner? Yes. Do I have a skewed perspective because I’m not Austrian and this isn’t “my” country? Yeah, maybe.
Maybe Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood needs to come to Viennese television networks.
Maybe I shouldn’t generalize people either.