Austrians chime in about their native son's victory
They voice admiration for Schwarzenegger - and hope he aids US understanding of Europe.
VIENNA — There were a few extra smiles, toasts, and even the occasional pumping of fists in Vienna's usually stately and serene coffeehouses and boutiques Wednesday.
Native son Arnold Schwarzenegger's California victory is sparking a host of reactions, many quite positive. These responses also offer a window on how Europeans see themselves - and how they see America.
Some people in Vienna, once the seat of Europe's greatest empire, for instance, are hoping - perhaps improbably - that their country might achieve a bit more respect from citizens of the modern world's big superpower. Perhaps, the thinking here goes, because of Mr. Schwarzenegger's prominence, more Americans will learn enough about Austria to distinguish it from, say, Australia. (It's a common mistake. Popular T-shirts here proclaim, "In Austria, there are no kangaroos.")
Others in this tradition-bound society have a bit of new respect for America - for a country in which a kid without much formal education from the town of Graz could achieve such heights of celebrity and political power.
"Only in America could this happen," says Peter Bernert, a businessman with a maroon paisley handkerchief tucked elegantly into his breast pocket. "It proves that America is a very open and transparent society where, if you are gifted, you can move ahead," he says, taking a sip of his mid-morning tea in a red velvet booth at Café Griensteidl. "Austria" - and all of Europe - he says, "is very different."
It was only a century ago that Vienna and the Austro-Hungarian empire were winding down 700 years at the center of the world's political and cultural stage. Mozart composed here. Sigmund Freud worked here. Vladimir Lenin lived in exile here.
But since the end of World War II, Austria has essentially been relegated to the global sidelines.
Besides Schwarzenegger, the biggest Austrian icon in wider popular culture is "The Sound of Music." Also Austrian: film director Billy Wilder and über-chef Wolfgang Puck.
But now there's fresh hope. "First it was Mozart. Then it was Freud. Now it is Schwarzenegger," says a smiling Herbert Seidlberger, who sports a bow tie and tuxedo as headwaiter at Café Mozart.
As for the man himself, Austrians express admiration - and occasional criticism.
"There is clearly much more to Mr. Schwarzenegger than it seems on the surface," says the businessman, Mr. Bernert. He points to Schwarzenegger's improbable success, including that he "acted in bad movies and became a big star."
Indeed, few people here admit to liking his blockbusters. And others are critical of his lack of formal education - a highly prized commodity here. "In Austria, you have to go to school and study politics or economics before you become a politician," says a dismissive Karen Kobalej, a bright-eyed former ballerina who toils in a manicure shop to pay for her schooling.
But it is Schwarzenegger's assertiveness and strong-willed approach that people here admire - even if it's not central to their culture. "He is a man of power," says Mr. Seidlberger, the headwaiter. By contrast, most Austrians, he says in slightly awkward English, have a different attitude: "First we look, and then we make." But of Americans, he says, "First they make. And then it's done."
Of course, America's action-hero approach does grate on many people here. "It is very sad," says Bernert, referring to the war on Iraq, "that a country as great as America is not using its power in - how do I say this politely? - the most sophisticated way."
But then again, some people think Austria could use a bit of America's - and Schwarzenegger's - chutzpah. "The only sad thing about the election," says Mike Urbanski, a waiter at Café Griensteidl, "is that it means he can't come here to be president of Austria."