I wrote earlier about the FSL, Former Soviet Landladies, women who used to spy and inform on their tenants, who have now been co-opted by the Russian government into protecting that country’s museums from rampaging tourists. Vienna had its own version of these FSLs, women aged 60+ with stern looks who strictly enforce the laws of Vienna. For instance, I entered a tram on which a typical young woman was talking animatedly on her cell phone, and noticed immediately an icy chill and heard much clucking of tongues. Within two stops, one of these lady-tongue-cluckers marched over to this young woman and yelled at her face-in-face much more loudly and protractedly than the woman had been on her phone, chastising her for breaking the silence on this sanctified library on wheels. I myself was sternly reprimanded in language I can only imagine but was not uncertain of the intent for starting to cross a street with no traffic when the little white man was lit red. I witnessed similar events daily.
I am calling these women The Vienna Police.
Munich has a whole other breed of The Vienna Police. Guidebooks even warn about them. Since 1158 AD, masses of short women with neat hair armed with 1/2-inch sturdy heels have marched the streets of Munich enforcing not only the laws, but the customs, mores and traditions of this fair city. They are self-appointed members of a not secret sisterhood. Their husbands cower or look away or hold their purses. These women are Hyacinth Bucket (“BooKAY”) without the slapstick. She Who Must Be Obeyed should have taken Rumpole on vacation to Munich, he might have taken to calling his wife My Adorable Cupcake With Icing On Top. A single look, rather than a lapful of chips and a foray in Greece, might have saved Shirley Valentine’s marriage had she only consulted a particular sort of woman from Munich (but nah, her way was better).
These are The Masters of the Stink-Eye (MSE).
I watched the blood drain from the face of a 6’4″ man who had leaned one tired foot against the side of a dirty wall of an ordinary office building on a back street, and watched the foot silently slide to the ground. I withered under such a look which went from the tip of my toes to the top of my head and back down for (I think) wearing (honestly sturdy not stilletto) heels to an evening classical concert (the MSE honed in on my shoes with the precision of the internal guidance system on a cruise missile). On other occasions, I have had the impression the MSE did not approve of a woman travelling on her own, by the way the stink eye itself suspiciously wandered, seeking a partner, followed by a narrowing, knowing, more lethal stink-eye; this may after all threaten the social order. Some women may grow to enjoy travelling solo. Where will that lead?
I notice very few policemen on foot but lots of sirens on police cars racing by; perhaps they are not needed in the streets because they have the Man on the job: the MSE are there, glaring down every infraction, staring that pickpocket into returning that wallet to its pocket out of naked fear; bringing organized crime to its knees, negotiating the freedom of hostages with a single raised eyebrow. Perhaps the police respond to calls reporting a woman whose braids are not straight, a man who dribbled on his brown suede shorts, or a child eating a pretzel without a napkin. Perhaps the police find these calls excessive, but they respond anyway. One does not question the authority of The Masters of the Stink-Eye.
My only question is this: where do all these women go during Oktoberfest?