This Austrian Lawyer
if you know two things about me it's that I'm proud to be both an Austrian and a lawyer. over the past 4 years I've been practicing law in Austria at an Austrian law firm. given that the last entry was rather depressing, I thought I would turn my attention to a less depressing time of my life, namely: my experience at an Austrian law firm.
as an American (and I view myself as an American having lived there over 30 of my 38 years) in an Austrian law firm I fit like a square peg in a round hole. in fact, I had interviewed for a secretary position there which highly intrigued the partner there as I had a doctorate. in the end they ended up creating a job position for me in which I mostly handled agreements (usually purchase and sales of companies) that were predominantly written in the English language. but this entry isn't about my work, that part is boring. this entry is about the environment.
I remember my first lunches in the lunchroom at this place. everyone silently chewed their food, seemingly ruminating over their work. if there was anything uttered it was usually about said work or a query if someone had gotten something done. me, being the American that I am, couldn't bear the heavy-handed silence so I began to either (a) talk about my day-to-day or (b) ask others about theirs. at first this was met with stunned silence usually followed by a blubbered response of, "my day was adequate" (please stop making eye contact with me).
aside from trying to liven up the lunches with what normal people would consider idle banter, I brought my idiotic humour to the firm. Austrians by and large joke about two things: (a) the absurdity of their language and (b) politics. as I am not too well-versed in (a) and not at all cognisant of (b) that left me with a pretty bear table. normally I ventured absurdist conversations into the void like how they thought stegasourous had sex (answer: very carefully).
slowly but surely they warmed up to me, probably treating me like a retarded, yet loveable brother who also did all the work involving English-laguage contracts.
one thing that I loved to do, late in the evening (and yes we worked hellish hours, sometimes until 8 or 9 at night when my mental faculties had just about given up) would be to dance to lady gaga's "telephone". my two office neighbours were Johanna and Stefan. now if you can think of the most refined, regal Austrians and then multiply that times 1000 you would get these two. always slickly dressed, with not a strand of hair awry, they worked like machines (Stefan having been first in his class and Johanna aspiring to become a judge).
so as normal people would do I would stand at the cusp of their office doors (first I would slyly peek around the corner to ensure my victim was indeed there because there is nothing more disappointing than entering a room to lady gaga's "telephone", shaking your hips, only to find an empty room greeting you) and slowly gyrate my shoulders at first. then, the next part of the routine, as they protested against my prostrations would be the hips, I'd always say something like, "oh yeah, I can see it, Stefan wants the hips next!" good times, at least for me. until I was doing it outside of our building, yelling at Christiane, "can you feel the beat?" when one of the partners walked by. he smiled meekly, looked somewhat like a caged animal and then quickly keyed himself into the building much to the mirth of my comrades.
Christiane was really the only coworker who seemed to enjoy my humour. she was a country girl who was very aware that she had to act a certain way to fit in with this high-flying city law firm. but when the two of us were alone, she would allow the rough country humour to come out and usually guffawed at what I said. like when she would order leberkase (which is basically fried bologna) and I would gravely ask her if she knew where it came from: "no..." she would start tentatively, hoping that I wasn't about to ruin her meal. "it comes from a horse's vagina." she snorted in dismissiveness. "no really, they take an ice cream scoop and take a big scoop of a horse's vagina then they flatten it out into a loaf". "fine she said," playing ball, "then what the hell is kaseleberkase?" (fried bologna with cheese in it)...I stepped back in horror, "Why Christiane, don't you know? that's when they catch a female horse who has a yeast infection!!!"
all in all I was readily aware of the odd juxtaposition of my position at a top Austrian law firm while also being an alcoholic. by day I would sit in a beautiful, white conference room with some of the top legal minds in the country (the 1% of the 1%); people who, for all intents and purposes, seemed to have it all together. well they weren't just holding life together by the seams, but they were excelling in ways that my brethren in my AA meetings couldn't even fathom. moving between the groups I felt like a fraud in both sometimes.
not only that but I was a hugger. call it my American taboo. over time the others got used to my hugging in greeting. I was an equal opportunity hugger, hugging from the men, to the women to the dogs (and yes there were office dogs). the men eventually gave up and accepted the hug in the most formal manner possible, butt sticking at an almost 90 degree angle from the waist, leaving maximum distance between genitals. the women had some getting used to. first and foremost, Austrian (and most European) women are pre-programmed to initiate the "kiss-kiss" sequence upon greeting. in some countries (like Switzerland) it can even evolve into the "kiss-kiss-kiss" this can then digress into an infinite kiss loop which is only broken by the fatigue of the kisser and kissee. furthermore, the "kiss-kiss" is done from a respectable distance, leaving about 1 meter or so (social distancing would be proud) between the bodies, requiring a bit of a lean-in for the "kiss-kiss". this, however, was a major problem for the hug as I would have to traverse this distance and would inevitably grab (or brush against) some side-boob on the way in to the hug itself. then of course came the "squeeze-in" (intensity determined by the current emotional state of the hugee, greater if said hugee was having a "less than adequate" day) of the hugee be that hugee a male, female or canine.
overall I loved working for this law firm. the people were very nice and I was in awe of the intensity with which they worked. they would come in around 8 or 9 and stay until 9 or 10. in fact that firm had both a shower and paid for dinner (two foreboding facts that I neglected to register at first). as much work as it was, there was really a bond that could only be forged when you've been working in a team for 12 hours a day. it actually got to the point where I got the privilege of seeing Austrian lawyers act "silly". they were all so bright and filled with life and hope and dreams and love and passion that it jarred me when I went to my AA meetings where the attendees would sit despondently, carousing over the minutiae of their days, finding pain where pain didn't need to exist. looking back, maybe it was good that I had both worlds, they evened me out, but what do I know I'm sitting in rehab right now writing this.
all in all I'm really glad that I worked at that law firm. I'm glad for the cultural experience and the insight it gave me into what "hard work" really was. I still remember when I started working on projects in the USA, I went into my bosses office and asked, nonchalantly in my American way, if I could maybe start at 10 am. he looked at me like I had just asked him if I could fuck his wife. I quickly did the only thing I could think of which was laugh loudly (too loudly) and start to pet his dog. he started laughing then too (nervously, I knew that he liked me, but he always viewed me a bit nervously like I was either going to present a cogent solution to a complex legal problem or take a shit on his desk) and I extracted myself from the situation in a manner that I would rate as a B .
but all of that is gone now. but at least it was. it was a good time.