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How to speak Austrian: These are the major differences between Austrian and High German

How to speak Austrian: These are the major differences between Austrian and High German
JOE KLAMAR / AFP
Austrians and Germans speak the same language - in theory. But there are a number of small differences which you need to master if you want to truly feel at home in Germany's neighbouring Alpine state. 

There is a famous saying that what separates Austrians and Germans is their common tongue. Or in German: “Was Deutschland und Österreich trennt, ist die gemeinsame Sprache.” 

We’ve summarised the key differences for any German speakers who plan to visit Austria. 

Austrians are more formal

Austrian German is often more polite and indirect than German spoken in Germany. 

For example while in Germany, people say Guten Tag (good day) or simply Hallo, in Austria Grüß Gott (God bless you) is a more standard way to greet someone.

Younger people in Austria and Bavaria may use the greeting Servus, which is common throughout central Europe. It comes from the Latin servus, and means “I am your servant” or “at your service”.

In Austria it is not considered polite to say succinctly to your waiter in a cafe: “Noch einen Kaffee, bitte!“ (Another coffee please!).

One should use  subjunctive forms, modal verbs and questions, asking instead “Entschuldigen Sie, könnte ich bitte noch einen Kaffee haben?“  (Excuse me, could I have another coffee, please?)

Some see this formality as charming, others find it a bit of a waste of time. 

Most common differences

The best known differences in vocabulary between Austrian German and German German are the following. 

  • Tüte (German) vs Sackerl (Austrian)

If you ask for a Tüte (shopping bag)  to take your goods home from the supermarket in Austria, you will be met with a blank stare. In Austria a Tüte is an ice cream cone. What you want is a Sackerl. 

  •  Treppe (German) instead of Stiege (Austrian)

When taking the stairs, Germans use the word Treppe, while Austrians say Stiege.

  • Kissen or Polster

Germans call a cushion a Kissen, Austrians go for a Polster

Food 

In addition, there are lots of different words for food in Austria compared to Germany. When Austria joined the EU in 1995, a list of 23 typical Austrian expressions for food were registered.

These included cauliflower, which is Karfiol in Austria and  Blumenkohl in Germany; apricots, which are Marille in Austria and Aprikose in Germany; and mince which is Faschiertes in Austria and Hackfleisch in Germany. 

Poetically, rather than the humble Kartoffel (potato), Austria has the Erdapfel (earth apple). And the prosaic Tomaten (tomatoes) become romantic Paradeiser in Austria. 

There are so many words for bread in Austria, that would require another article.

Beer

In Austria, you are more likely to be drinking a beer down your local Beisl (a Yiddish word for pub) than in the German Kneipe. If someone offers you a Jause in Austria, they are offering you a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack.

When you stagger home on the Straßenbahn (tram) in Vienna, remember to call it a Bim (a word which recalls the sound the tram makes as it winds its way through the city).

What to avoid saying in Austria

You will not be popular if you ask for Sahne (cream) in your coffee in an Austrian cafe, the correct term is Obers or Schlagobers (whipped cream). 

Likewise, when you finish eating in Austria, please do not describe the food as lecker (tasty). Many Austrians do not like this word. The Austrian way is to say Es hat mir gut geschmeckt (it tasted good to me)

Goodbye

If you feel like a change from the German Auf Wiedersehen or Tschüss (goodbye), try the Austrian Bussi Baba, which translates to “kisses, bye”. Maybe not one to try out on your boss. 


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