Vienna has overtaken Melbourne as The best City in The World to Live in. Except, it isn’t really.

The latest Liveability Index from The Economist Intelligence Unit concludes that Vienna is the best city in the world to live in. The annual survey, considers 30 factors related to safety, health care, educational resources, infrastructure and the environment. Far be it for the humble dweller’s guide to disagree with such a respected body as The Economist, but there are other factors too – and Austria doesn’t do so well on them.

At First Glance Austria Looks like an OK Place to Live…

Austria is ranked 16th on the Corruption Perceptions Index and 4th on the Global Peace Index. Numbeo ranks it the 20th most expensive country to live in. Expatisan ranks it 22nd. Emoov ranks Vienna as the 6th most expensive city to buy property in Europe and the Global Property Guide ranks Austria as Europe’s 5th most expensive property market in price per square metre. It isn’t cheap, but it’s a lot cheaper than the UK or France. Income tax is progressive, ranging from 25% up to 55% for incomes above €1m. Again, not cheap, but not the highest either.

Austria’s health service was ranked 10th best in the 2016 OECD Euro Health Consumer Index and it’s schools were ranked 26th in the 1015 OECD PISA world rankings for science, reading and maths. They’re neither the best nor the worst.

Austria ranks 2nd out of 67 countries in Expat Insider’s overall Quality of Life Index, based on personal safety, peacefulness, and political stability.

But Is Austria Really Such a Good Place to Live?

So why should it be that Austria is ranked 54th out of 67 in the Expat Insider Ease of Settling In Index? And why is Austria ranked only in 31st place in the Personal Happiness subcategory? Perhaps it’s because of the Austrians? A perceived lack of friendliness from the locals, trouble finding friends, and the difficulty of learning the local language are all cited as issues. Austrians have a reputation for being cool and unfriendly to foreigners, especially those who don’t speak German.

We may know it’s wrong to cross the road when the lights say not to, but we don’t expect to be told off for it. For a country that likes to follow rules so well, Austria has some surprises. Austria is ‘the ashtray of Europe’. 24% of Austrian adults smoke, which is very high, but not the big shock – which is that a survey of 26 countries by the OECD in 2013 found that Austria had the highest smoking rate among the young, a position it has held since 1994. 52% of 18-28 year old men and 34% of 18-28 year old women smoke.

And Austria has only a partial smoking ban which, astonishingly, doesn’t apply to bars and restaurants. The leader of the Freedom Party, Austria’s Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, told parliament that it was about freedom of choice and that “a citizen has the possibility to decide perhaps to enjoy a cigarette or a pipe or a cigar with their coffee”.

While they enjoy a cigar with their coffee, they’re unlikely to have enjoyed the rest of the meal very much. Restaurant service in Austria is notoriously slow, bad and bad tempered. When you’ve finished your meal and someone else’s cigar, you’ll probably have to pay for it with cash as cards are not accepted in many restaurants. You’d also better leave a generous tip for the service you have no doubt not received, or face the scowl of the waiter you didn’t receive it from.

Slowness and rudeness are qualities that also characterise Austrian bureaucracy. If you break one of the innumerable rules, or forget to pay a bill, you can expect, some time later, to receive an uncompromising official letter threatening you with a prison sentence or life changing fine. If, on the other hand, you find you’ve overpaid a bill or that you have received too little from a service provider, then you can expect, some time later, those same authorities, to not even bother to answer your polite letters of complaint.

OK, But Apart From the Smoke, The Obsession with Rules,the  Slowness and Rudeness and Unfriendliness, Austria is a good place to live?

Only if you don’t mind living among racists. Austria. ZARA, the German anti-discrimination organisation (“Zivilcourage und Anti-Rassismus-Arbeit, meaning “Civil Courage and Anti-Racism Work”) reported in 2016 that racism in Austria is at its highest level for years. In 2015 927 cases of racism in Austria were registered with ZARA, compared to 794 in 2014 and 731 in 2013. 20% of the incidents in 2015 took place online, compared with 17% in the previous year.

Two thirds of the racist remarks or acts referred to refugees, and were directed towards either asylum seekers or people supporting them. ZARA’s report supports data released by Austria’s police intelligence agency in November 2015, which showed they received 1,201 criminal complaints about racist and xenophobic crimes between January and September, compared to 750 in the same period in 2014 – a jump of 60%.

If you’re prepared to overlook occasional support for genocide, casual racism, anti-semitism and general rudeness, Austria can probably claim to be the most cultured country in the world. (As Christopher Hitchens observed, ‘the two great achievements of Austria, were to convince the world that Hitler was German, and that Beethoven was Viennese.’)

OK, But Apart from the Racism and all the other stuff, Austria is a good place to live?

Not according to August Hanning, Germany’s former head of BND, its foreign intelligence service, who has warned against sharing sensitive intelligence material with Austria as he believes Austria’s intelligence service cannot be trusted. He said: ‘Caution is necessary with a service which cannot protect its own secrets …or sensitive information of its partners.” Other Western Intelligence services have already stopped sharing information with Austria, according to The Washington Post in the wake of growing concern about links between members of the Austrian government and Russia.

OK, But Apart from The Smoke, The Rules, The Slowness, The Rudeness, The Unfriendliness, The Racism and the fact that its Security Services leaks secrets to the Russians against the rest of its Western Allies, Austria is A good Place To Live? 

Well, according to The Economist survey, Vienna has a smallish population and good transport links so maybe that makes up for it all. What Tosh!

Vienna, The best Place to Live, Until You Scratch the Surface To Find Some Ugly Truths.

If you want to know more about a place than it really wants you to know, read The Dweller’s Guide To The Planet

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