Fenstertage – a blessed relief or a curse?

The Stadtschulrat, my wife’s employer, decided in their wisdom that today as a Fenstertag would be a good day to have the school closed. For some parents it comes as a relief that putative illness is not required to keep a child away from school and that holiday plans can be made for a few days’ escape to relations in other parts of the country or neighbouring countries (a real Viennese invariably has a (great-)grandparent from Hungary, Bohemia or similar).
For others it is a curse – one parent cannot get away from work and the day off for one is business as usual for the other. Usually as the current year moves into November, Austria’s tabloids dust off their tried and tested articles on optimizing consumption of holiday to use the public holidays to their benefit – with pronouncements about whether the coming year is a good one or a bad one.
Over the years I have praised and cursed Fenstertage in equal measure, usually depending somewhat on whether they have eked out extra days of holiday, allowed long weekends, or equally allowed me to exploit processing power and lightened network load to my advantage. Unfortunately not all colleagues think the same way. Back in the early days of file-sharing services (I presume nowadays there might be “an app for that”) a thoughtful trainee managed to paralyze our network downloading more music than seems reasonably and then invoking a Denial of Service attack. That led to much head scratching, discussing and ruminating over IT security, as well as a throttling of network speed and capacity.
Needless to say the inconvenience caused by exploiting the then proto-sharing-economy was a source of extended ire among those colleagues affected. Even the coffee machine would strike on some occasions to compound the Fenstertag misery and if IT was not reachable after they’d blown their Sodexo cheques in the canteen then a Fenstertag became a “look out of the Fenster and hope the weather gods turn off the downpour for long enough to flounce defiantly out of the office” day on some occasions.
But that is all part of the “first world problems” side of the Fenstertage. A friend, laid off about 18 months ago from his job a few years short of retirement, but with a bitter ex-wife to pay off and financially demanding children, has come to lament and resent every Fenstertag and Feiertag. He goes in to teach Business English at various Austrian companies and his best customers (in terms of the regularity of teaching units that theoretically they want) are also those that are have staff making the most use of the Fenstertage. Many customers also have a lot of sales staff who have to “get out and sell” and their absence means often that classes are cancelled at long enough notice for him not to be invoke a cancellation charge, yet at too short notice to line up much in the way of replacement work, while his social insurance payments still of course go out regardless of how much work he has.
Not going away for a Fenstertag out of solidarity with his straitened circumstances to line the pockets of a Wellnessoase that hikes its prices to milk the financially profligate is the least I can do. At least there is a good excuse to chew the fat over a bowl of soup and a large Schnitzel in a suburban Beisl, and not worry if in case of a solitary Seidl to wash it down with, I choose to enjoy a Krügerl or two. And then afterwards I help him change his tyres over to winter tyres, which seems to be what a lot of suburban males of a certain age seem to be doing on this grey Fenstertag.

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