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Racism in Salzburg

Author: pasttense
Date of Trip: August 2007

Salzburg in the year 2007-pretty to look at perhaps, but overall a great, big, shocking, disappointment. Our experience there was one of racist incidences and rude residents. It seems the attitudes of some of its residents is anything but pretty.

My mother and I are Indian. We have lived in many different continents, have travelled a huge amount and visited many countries. We, as worldwide travellers, have never experienced such a sour place as Salzburg. Having travelled since childhood, I have never experienced something as awful as this.

My mother and I took the train from Vienna to Salzburg last week. When we got to our hotel:

1) We booked a tour to see Salzburg’s lakes and mountains (35 Euros) and inquired about the ‘Lakes and Mountains’ tour.

Our hotel booked us onto the coach and a minivan arrived to pick us up to take us to the coach. When we got to the coach, the coach driver stopped my mother and I from getting onto the coach. He first claimed the coach was full, but that, we would be taken on a ‘private’ tour in a minivan identical to the one which had brought us to the coach earlier. Later, however, his excuse changed- he told us this private arrangement was better for us because the coach had people from only European countries and that as we would have a private tour, we would not have to sit through commentary in different European languages, and would only be guided in English. There was only one other group with us on the minivan- a young Arab couple from Dubai; the wife with her hair covered, were the only others to join my mother and I on this private tour. The tour description said that: we were meant to be given time in the small town of St. Gilgen to shop before being taken back to our hotel via the same route as we came on so that we could see the lakes and mountains again on our way back.

Instead what happened was: our minivan driver/tour guide informed us that he had to be back at 6pm and that therefore we could have just 15 minutes to look around St. Gilgen and that he would take the motorway back to Salzburg instead of the normal (scenic route). The man from the couple from Dubai asked whether we could have a bit more time in St. Gilgen, but this was denied. Therefore, on our way back to Salzburg, we saw nothing but motorway.

2) The next day, we went shopping and sightseeing in Salzburg. We went into a shop in the center close to the St. Peter’s church. While searching for souvenirs, suddenly the shop owner came up to me and started shouting at me ‘YOU PEOPLE will destroy everything and you will not pay for it, I know this!’ I asked her to be calm and told her that she could not speak to me that way but she continued shouting. Finally, I told her very, very directly and loudly but without shouting, ‘You cannot speak to me like that!’ and not to be rude. As there were other customers in the shop she began to protest that she was not rude. We really were totally disgusted by her behavior- and it is shocking to see racism so openly in this day and age, particularly from people who depend on foreigners for their livelihood. We left the shop and continued to look around as we had a few hours before we needed to get to the train station to go back to Vienna. As the weather was chilly and my mother wanted to try some Austrian cakes, we looked for a cafe.

3) We left the shop and went into a cafe in the square which has the yellow house which was Mozart’s birthplace- right in the heart of Salzburg’s tourist area. Opposite Mozart’s birthplace, in the corner, there was an outdoor cafe. When we took our seats, a young couple and everyone in the bar began to stare at us openly. My mother asked the waitress if she could see some cakes. The woman looked very irritated, but brought a plate which had slices of many different types of cakes arranged on it. She held it up quite high so my mother could not really see what was on the plate. My mother asked her what each of the cakes were. My mother politely asked ‘Can you please lower the plate a bit because I can’t see what they are’ and asked her if she could put the plate on the table. The woman flat out said no. I cannot understand why she could not, as it was only a display plate and not for serving. We finally ordered one piece of Mozart cake and two coffees, but in retrospect given the racist nature of the cafe we should have left. The whole time we were there, the couple stared at us and whispered and the people at the bar also stared at us.

I have lived and worked in several European cities and I have never encountered behavior as despicable as that in Salzburg. Racism in any form is of course totally unacceptable, and it is wholly intolerable and unacceptable coming from people who are making their living from the tourism industry.

Having seen much of Europe I can say this: There are many, many beautiful places to see and spend your hard-earned salaries. As for me, Salzburg is definitely off the list.

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