By Annette Alexander
Annette Alexander works in human resources as chief people officer at WP Engine, a platform for WordPress websites and apps. Originally from Norway, she moved to Austin, Texas, from the French capital Paris with her husband and daughter in 2013, drawn by its booming technology scene.
Austin is known for being laid-back, casual and fun: one of its great qualities is how easy it is to make friends. People are incredibly helpful and quick to show you their Texan hospitality: I’ve been invited to more backyard barbecues in Austin than at any other point in my life. From both a social and business perspective, this is a very supportive community.
Compared with European cities, Austin is not as walkable, through it is far easier to drive round. It is also far easier to raise children here thanks to an ecosystem of child-centric activities: sports, educational classes, pools, clubs and restaurants catering to children — unlike in Paris. Parents in Austin are also far more actively involved in their children’s activities and school events.
At primary and high-school levels, private schools are far more reasonable from a cost perspective here than other US metropolitan areas, such as New York or Silicon Valley, and many of Austin’s public schools are rated as excellent.
Austin is where outdoor living, music and great food meet. With swimming pools such as Barton Springs or Hamilton Pool and accessible green spaces such as the Barton Creek Greenbelt or Zilker Park, being active and enjoying nature is a staple of life in this city.
Austin is noted for its acres of parkland and miles of running and bike trails, such as my favourite 10-mile strip by Lady Bird Lake reservoir. You can rent canoes and paddle boards, or take a sunset cruise — and it is home to one of the largest communities of bats in the world.
Austin takes its nickname as the Live Music Capital of the World pretty seriously. From storied venues such as Antone’s or the Elephant Room to the festival boom that has taken over the city (think Austin City Limits Festival and SXSW), places to see legendary bands and up-and-coming musicians are plentiful.
In recent years, foodies have been drawn to the city’s lively eating scene, evident in traditional Texas barbecue joints such as Franklin Barbecue (where people start queuing at dawn for brisket and sausage), old Tex-Mex haunts such as Polvos or Matt’s El Rancho, and modern restaurants, including Uchi or Olamaie, which have added a finer touch to the city’s expanding menu.
While Austin is not a particularly international city, that too is changing, as more people from around the world are drawn by the technology companies here as well as the University of Texas, which has a global reputation for the quality of its teaching and research.
The city invariably ranks as one of the best places to live in the US, because of the universities, the outdoor activities, the booming job sector, the live music scene and the food. But that also has a downside: living in Austin is not as cheap as it used to be.
A lot of people are moving here, especially from New York and California, and that has driven up prices. The cost of living went up nearly 34 per cent last year, according to personal finance site GOBankingRates. As more tech companies move here, more talent from all over the US will come to Austin.
Coming from Europe, I suffered a little culture shock. Social etiquette is not the same and dress is far less formal. Climate plays a central role in this, as does the prominence of the tech industry, which has long adopted a casual dress code.
Similarities do exist though: both Paris and Austin place a high value on food. There are fine-dining options here that would thrive in New York or Paris, such as Emmer & Rye, Juniper and Jeffrey’s. And just like Paris, Austin has bars, restaurants and shops that cater to pets.
Finally, and it may sound silly, but the grocery stores here are absolutely incredible. In Europe, I was used to smaller speciality shops and grocery stores that did not offer as much variety. In Austin, going to the supermarket is an experience.
You can grab a coffee, maybe even a glass of wine, and peruse aisles of vegetables, produce, breads and just about anything else. Even my young daughter has a good time at the grocery store here.
Living in Austin has been a wonderful experience. While I go back to Norway to visit family, and can easily recall what life in Paris was like, it is hard to picture myself living anywhere but here.
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