I met a couple of Americans for drinks the other night, and our conversation took me back to one of my initial impressions of Austria. I used to think that this country was socially conservative, and politically progressive. Now I'm not sure about the progressive part. For example, the government provides very generous childcare subsidies and maternity leave programs, which makes it easier to be a moms. But this could also be seen as an inducement to women to become housewives instead of artists, bankers or brain surgeons.
Another example: Not only do many Austrians have no grasp of political correctness--lots of them think it's okay to refer to black people as "negers"--they're also a little shaky on the subject of hate crimes. If there are any actual laws here against discrimination because of race or sexual preference, those laws are toothless.
Check it out: a lesbian couple we know have adopted a daughter, and they want to buy an apartment. About a month ago, they found a nice place, and one of them got in touch with the owners about buying the place. The owners asked for an application and some financial statements from our friends. Then the owners called them back and said, 'Let's make a deal.'
Our friends then went to their first face-to-face meeting with the owners, who are both men. Shortly after they walked in together, they were told the property was no longer for sale.
Then the bashing started.
"So you're from Hamburg?" one of the owners said to one of our friends. "Why aren't you blonde then?"
At first our friends were confused, then struck dumb by disbelief.
"How would you live in a place like ours?"
"As a family," our other friend answered.
"Is that legal?" one of the apartment owners asked. "I have to make a phone call to check on that."
"You have a daughter?" they asked. "Why didn't you adopt a son? Is it because you have a problem with men?"
At some point, our friends declared this "meeting" over and they walked out. One of them was so shocked (and hurt?) she only started to gather her wits on the way out of their office. But then all she could do was complain to the owners' receptionist.
Here's the punchline: our friends went to a local gay rights organization to get help. The people there told them, 'Sorry, there's not much you can do. But thanks for coming to us--will you sign our register? Then we can continue to get government funding for our anti-discrimination programs.'