This is the face of someone who had a fantastic day. It is also the face of a potential criminal mastermind.
Today was full of little victories. I conquered the awkward shower. I ordered lunch by myself. I even figured out how to use the S-Bahn, which apparently is an intricate train line that manages to confuse some of the most adept Viennese users of public transit.
I, of course, got lost after I departed the train station. I eventually made it to my destination, but on the way, I was stopped by a police officer. Now, my students know that ending up in an Austrian jail was one of my fears before embarking on this trip, and during my encounter with the polizei, I thought for a moment that that fear would become manifest.
As I walked down the street, I saw the police officer, but I didn’t think anything of it. He appeared to be ticketing cars, and while I felt sorry for the people who were ticketed, I didn’t think much more of the situation. I did notice, however, the officer’s firearm. I don’t know a thing about guns, but I knew enough to notice that his seemed unusually large.
He was on the sidewalk immediately in front of me, which I didn’t find troubling, until he looked directly at me. The look on his face was less than pleasant. I smiled at him, which in hindsight was a rookie move. I’ve noticed here that people do not often look at or interact with each other on the street, which is very contrary to my nature. I typically say hello to or smile at just about everyone I walk past. Perhaps my dazzling smile caused him alarm.
Instead of allowing me to walk past, he asked me a question. I have no idea what he said, but his tone was not conversational. I stared at him blankly for a moment, and he repeated his question. This time he was pointing to something and saying, “Card.” I told him that I don’t understand German. He switched to English, without pause, and told me that it doesn’t matter that I don’t know German, but what mattered was whether or not I had a card. I told him I had no idea what he was talking about and that no, I didn’t have any particular card. He spoke angrily to me for another minute, in a mix of German and English, and then he just stopped. As soon as he stopped, I walked past him and kept it moving. I didn’t know why he stopped me or why he eventually let me pass.
As I told a colleague about my encounter, she explained to me that I had been racially profiled. Vienna apparently has a lot of illegal immigrants, and the home I was visiting was in a ritzy neighborhood. Without knowing anything about Vienna, it was clear to me that this neighborhood was more posh than the ones I had been frequenting, and apparently, I didn’t look like I belonged there. So the policeman was asking me for my immigration card. I asked my colleague why he let me go, since clearly I didn’t have one. She said that he must have figured out I was American and decided I was a tourist.
I was intrigued on two accounts. The first was that I got racially profiled in Austria. That was a concern of mine before coming, but everyone told me that racism isn’t a problem in Austria. Everyone who told me that was white, and to be honest, I didn’t believe them. My colleague, who is also not white, explained that Austria is very racist. I don’t know if “very racist” by Austrian standards is the same as “very racist” by US standards. I do know, however, that up until the police officer stopped me, no one has paid me much mind, unless of course I was walking around outside during a downpour. The second account that tickled me was that my obvious American-tourist-ness paid off.
Today was full of little victories.