There's no place like a diverse home
• • •
The English-language city magazine "Metropole" is the voice of international Vienna. It was founded by Maggie Childs, who came to Vienna as an American teenager and understands the needs of expats in the Vienna Region.
Margaret "Maggie" Childs was only eleven when she, together with her brother and her mother, moved from New York to Vienna. Back then, immigrants were completely left to their own devices. With "Metropole", a city magazine founded in 2015, Maggie Childs introduced a platform to support them. In our Vienna Region interview, the editor discusses how Vienna has become increasingly international and cosmopolitan, why more and more people wish to stay in this city, and why she sees parallels between start-ups and immigrants.
You came to Vienna from New York when you were a child. How did the region present itself to you back then, and what has changed since then?
Maggie Childs: My mother came to Vienna as a single mother without any knowledge of the German language. Back then, there was almost no assistance, and you had to collect every bit of information by yourself. It was difficult because life in Vienna is different from that in America. Additionally, there were many bureaucratic obstacles. For example, we had to go to the immigration authorities with all our documents regularly to extend our visa. My mother couldn't take the day off, and since these visits were only possible during normal office hours, it was us children who had to take care of it. Nowadays, the Vienna Region offers many services that allow immigrants to get their bearings more easily. Metropole is one of them. Our goal is to give a sense of curiosity and belonging to everybody living in Vienna. The most important factor is the fact that the magazine is in English. After all, there are over 340,000 people in Vienna who speak better English than German.
What kind of stories about Vienna do you explore in Metropole?
We talk about topics that give people background info on things they deal with in their everyday lives. From announcements of roadblocks to explanations on what the new government means for the Viennese. Even though many people are not eligible to vote in Vienna, the elections have a direct influence on them, and they wish to understand the background. Online, we seek to provide daily news. In the print magazine, we are able to discuss things more in-depth. The goal is to illustrate cultural differences, but we also wish to familiarize our readers with Vienna's culture in all its facets.
Do you have expat editors, too?
Partly. Our core team consists of ten people, half of which were born in Austria. We have four staff members and a pool of about 30 freelance contributors with a similar balance. Austrian journalists like to write for us because they have the opportunity to write in English while being coached by English-speaking editors.
How do you reach your target audience?
People who come to Austria do not primarily look for a magazine, of course – so we try to reach them where they arrive. This is mainly at the workplace, but also directly at the airport, at various clubs, in their children's schools and at expat organizations.
What does the international community feel strongly about?
The feedback and letters we receive tell us that newcomers are hungry for information and support, and, like all of us, they want to feel understood. In our monthly gatherings, which each have about 100 Metropolitans as participants, they get the opportunity to network and exchange ideas. This allows us to stay aware of the topics which are of interest to our readers and the challenges people encounter. We also offer a business guide, the Hello Pages, which contains valuable information on everything from English-speaking lawyers or translation offices to au-pair services or international summer camps. We are also planning to launch a job platform for companies looking for international employees.
How active is Vienna's international community?
When I came to Vienna, there already was a community which, however, was completely isolated, like a parallel society. Today, the community ventures out of isolation.
Newcomers in Vienna are a heterogeneous target audience with homogenous needs. The individual subgroups don't keep to themselves because they want to, but because that is the effect of their individual life situations. The children of French expats, for example, tend to go to the Lycée Francais, so the parents tend to meet other French-speaking parents there. We try to actively get people out of their "bubbles" and give them the opportunity to meet other Viennese people who have been living here for a long time, which enriches both groups.
Do your readers feel at home in Vienna?
We intend to be the voice of international Vienna. For a successful integration and a fulfilled and successful life, you need cultural understanding and respectful cooperation. Therefore, we try to help new Viennese people to understand Austrian culture and become part of it. This approach is also appreciated by Viennese people who have been living here for a long time and who make up a large part of our readership. They tell us that our stories give them a new perspective on the city and the Vienna Region, and that they recognise the quality of life which they used to take for granted. In this way, we give German-speaking Viennese people the opportunity to get an international point of view.
Viennese people tend to be traditional and conservative. What are the similarities between Vienna and New York, or are these two worlds not comparable at all?
My father lives in New York, so I know both worlds very well. Yes, there are some parallels. Vienna used to be in a sleeplike state for decades, but it has become a very pulsating city, and the Vienna Region has become much more international. The biggest difference is people's mentality. In Austria, people walk about 40 percent slower than in New York. Only tourists stroll and amble in New York. In New York, competition in every sector is immense, so you need more of an elbow mentality to assert yourself. In Vienna, privacy and leisure time are much more important. Family life is put before work life. This would be unthinkable in New York.
What do your readers like about the Vienna Region, and what can Viennese people learn from them?
Our readers are cosmopolitan people. Usually, they are people who have many stories to tell. They risk taking their families out of their familiar surroundings, leaving their homeland and starting from scratch in a different country. I see many parallels to start-ups. Both have the courage to venture into the unknown. They accept the risk of failure and bring an immense amount of optimism to make the best of their situation. On the other hand, immigrants are fascinated by the combination of black humor and the attitude towards life that is prevalent in Vienna. Many are shocked when they learn the amount of taxes they have to pay in Austria. But when they recognise the great benefits they receive, which improve their quality of life, they appreciate the system. It's like the economist Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: "I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilisation."
Do you see a difference between how expats are faring here and in other European countries?
Yes, because we do corresponding market research. Vienna comes off very well in that regard. Especially in terms of social integration, the Vienna Region is exemplary. While immigrants in other countries prefer to stay in their bubbles, they have access to culture and the arts very quickly here. You can enroll in various clubs without any problems. I have experienced this myself. I went to a Gymnasium, a college preparatory high school, which focused on integration and offered a "German as a foreign language" class after school every day. Vienna’s internationality contributes strongly to the city’s flair. Still, there are downsides. In terms of the integration of international workers, Vienna needs to catch up. If we want skilled workers to settle down in the Vienna Region, we need to reduce the bureaucratic obstacles.
What is the situation of international women in the Vienna Region?
When hearing the word "expats", many think of male specialists and managers who are sent to foreign offices. We like to use the term much more broadly. Many people do not simply come to Austria because of work, but also because of love or studies, and this applies to men and women in equal measure. We also hear from our readers, however, that the reasons they came to Vienna are not always the reasons they stayed. For example, many came here for a temporary work project, then fell in love with somebody, fell in love with the city, or just didn't want to do without Käsekrainer – and so they stay. Last but not least, many wouldn't want to leave Vienna because of its high quality of life.
The interview was conducted by medienkomplizen | Christian Scherl
Photo & video: medienkomplizen/b.breitegger