Why So Glum, Wolfgang?

Grumpy Austrians put grinning Oregonians in their place.

By Madeline Stone, Ryan Bakken, Sam Poloway, Dash Paulson, Adam Vaughn, Darcy Walker, Victor Flores, Mia Schauffler, and Nickolaus Schwarz March 3, 2014 Published in the March 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

Shutterstock 164428502 fikmym

On the surface, Vienna and Portland are similar. The Austrian capital features beards aplenty, skilled mixologists behind every bar, and cyclists on fixies. But look at the faces, and the similarities end. Indeed, when nine University of Oregon journalism students arrived in Austria for a class at the Forum Journalismus und Medien, cheery Oregon bonhomie melted under glowering Austrian stares. 

Thus, an experiment: the students went around the city smiling at Austrian strangers everywhere—on the subway, outside McDonald’s, or in front of St. Stephen’s cathedral—and asked them why they wore such frowns. Here’s what they said:

  • “Smiling is like an attack. People who smile all the time are the ones that do drugs.”
  • “In the country people are more friendly, but in the city the stress gets to people.”
  • “People are just in a hurry.”
  • “If she’s tall, blonde, and has a good figure, you might as well smile at her.”
  • “Yes, the waiters here are unfriendly, but cab drivers in Berlin are worse.” 
  •  “I don’t like generalizations.”
  • “People think you are a beggar if you’re smiling.”
  • “If someone is walking down the street smiling, I think they are from another country, or on drugs, or drunk.”
Filed under
Show Comments