As an American that moved to Austria, I had been wanting to read C. E. Miedler’s book for some time.
From what I knew of the book it was about how an Austrian moved abroad to America and I was curiously wanting to compare my experiences with hers, though her relocation was vice versa in comparison with mine. While the subject matter might not be very captivating to most audiences, I found the writing unassuming, refreshing, and very interesting.
Miedler writes in a simple, straightforward way and weaves you through a period in her life in which she moved from Austria to California. She takes you on a journey in which she describes personal experiences during this time that made her think, changed her, provoked her and made her into the individual she is today.
She also discusses some historical events (9/11, the recession, etc) which she lived through and was impacted by as an outsider who was on the inside. Some of these experiences I was able to relate to: Miedler experienced her first earthquake in California and I experienced my first one in Austria; she enjoyed the American dryers and, living in Austria, I desperately missed them; she experienced the loss of a pet in a foreign country, I, rather unfortunately, also experienced the same loss. It was very interesting to see how she coped with the experiences she encountered as an Austrian living in my home country.
What made it more fascinating was her perspective on American culture which I had grown up in and had become so very accustomed to. So accustomed that many of the things she mentions in her book, made me realize that I had internalized many aspects of American culture and had never thought they were a problem to begin with.
She discusses the American need for credit in order to rent an apartment and how one must “have some debt to have credit.” In contrast, most Austrians avoid any kind of debt possible. For the most part, Austrians rent apartments for the entirety of their lives and credit cards are very rarely utilized. Yet in order to fund the consumerism culture that is rampant in America, Miedler points out how you almost have to be in debt.
Miedler also draws attention to the diet fads and the body image obsession that she encountered in California. She discusses how she coped with it and how it changed her physical body and the way she perceived her own body image. Miedler draws attention to these issues in greater detail, as well as other issues, when discussing some very personal experiences and highlights the differences between the Austrian approach and the American approach to these subjects.
When I relocated to Austria, I noticed some successes and failures in Austrian culture but never gave much thought to the successes and failures that could be found in my own culture, namely American culture. Miedler makes some very interesting points on American culture that I never really had considered or felt challenged on; more or less, I had just internalized it and never realized the hypocrisy in American culture.
I was grateful for her straightforward and honest approach to many of these topics that colored her experiences, because of this approach I found I couldn’t get defensive on behalf of my own culture. In fact, I could very easily relate to her and the experiences she had.
In the end, I found I couldn’t put the book down and I tried to figure out why that was. There were very few cliffhangers that made you desperately turn to the next page to find out what happened…I think it’s the simple and honest way in which she writes and her unique perspective on something that I also have a shared experience in; moving away from your home country. The things which she experienced and lived through were, I’d say, groundbreaking for an individual to have to go through, but it isn’t fraught with needless emotion.
Just simple, and at times, thought-provoking, honesty. And with that approach I found it refreshing to read and hard to put down.
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