Guest Column: A One-Time La Cañadan Abroad

The old saying "Love conquers all" is questionable to a Californian in Austria. After 30 years in Vienna, I wonder at its truth, especially in the grey days of winter when "California Dreamin'" is whirling around inside my brain and snow is whirling around outside the house.

My Austrian husband says that in marrying me he gave up his freedom. My reply: I not only gave up my freedom, I gave up warm weather (plus the sunny blue skies and lush green gardens of my home in La Cañada), my language, my family and friends, my common memories of things past, my culture. In fact, I even have to fight with everyone to explain that as an American I do possess culture and that I am not solely responsible for American foreign policy.

There are ups and downs to living abroad. As a Californian I can re-create myself. I can be different and eccentric and blame it on my nationality. There is a certain "mystique" in being a La Cañada girl who has lived near glamorous Hollywood, and from a state where Austria's own Arnold Schwarzenegger has found fame.

The downside is that I will forever be the outsider because my German will always have that accent. Having actually been one of those privileged enough to be born in California and raised in the foothills above LA for 23 years, I can never acquire the youthful memories of my Austrian friends.

When they speak of their times at school, they do not realize how different are my memories that include La Cañada High School football games and prom queens and the Rose Parade.

I can never have the same memories of music, art, films or TV that my friends have. Not only do I not have their memories, my own memories fade quickly with no one to talk to about them. I am different.

I am different with regard to chickens, too. In California, when we were going to have chicken for dinner, we went to Ralphs and bought our chickens in pieces. Those pieces weren't really those cute little birds that lay eggs. Then in Austria, the only chickens I saw looked like very real chickens, but very whole, very dead chickens. They still had their heads and claws. The claws showed you how fresh the chicken was, the head was added to the soup. So … I didn't buy any chicken at all. This is only the tip of the iceberg on variations in food culture: lard bread (schmaltzbrot) eaten with delight, a plum jam that is sour (powidl), or people who actually like to eat brain and heart are just some of the stumbling blocks on the way to my cultural integration. I am from a country with such wonders as fast food and peanut butter.

Austrians not only like their own food, they love their history. They have Schonbrunn, the Hofburg, St. Stephen's Cathedral and the biggest (and oldest) Ferris wheel in the world. They have beautiful buildings along the Ringstrasse as continual reminders of their grand past. They have famous musicians, literary stars, painters of whom they are justly proud. They are bound by century-old traditions and customs. This love of the past is wonderful. Unfortunately, as a Californian, it's one I hardly share. As many Austrians have told me, America doesn't have much of a past, and California, as a part of the cowboy frontier, even less. We are not known for our fine old buildings or our customs. The "old" I remember are the "old" palm trees on Palm Drive. My own interest is more in breaking traditions, or starting new ones, rather than maintaining the old ones. So, this is another difference that leads to culture shock.

It seems clear to me now, 30 years later, that neither I (the American), nor they (the Austrians) are absolutely right or wrong. The advantage of experiencing culture shock is the realisation that, in fact, different cultures mean different values and that everyone and no one is right or wrong. My home today is in two places at once and my horizons keep expanding. One way anyone can expand their horizons is my way: fall in love and marry someone from a different country. And see where it leads.

Candy Fresacher (nee Mishler) went to Palm Crest Elementary School, Foothill Intermediate School, La Cañada High School, PCC (AA), CSULB (BA, MA), and 30 years later received a Ph.D. from University of Vienna. She has worked at the UN in Vienna for an American tour operator, and for the past 17 years has been teaching in vocational colleges and giving presentations at conferences throughout Europe. In her graduating year from high school in 1969 she was given the Bank of America Business Achievement Award. Thanks to Buzzi Burner and Mrs. Laesar of La Cañada High, her business skills are still in use in Europe.

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