For members


What ‘Mahlzeit’ means and how to use it in Austria

Anyone familiar with Austria will tell you that the only German word you need to know between 11am and 1pm is “Mahlzeit” – especially in the workplace.

What 'Mahlzeit' means and how to use it in Austria
What is Mahlzeit and what does it mean? Photo by Jens Mahnke from Pexels

But what does it mean and how can international residents make sure they use the word correctly?

Here’s what you need to know. 

What does “Mahlzeit” mean?

In a nutshell, “Mahlzeit” simply means “meal-time”.

If you’re reading this and thinking it sounds strange to say “meal-time” to people, then you’re not alone.

Many international residents and non-German speakers in Austria have been equally as confused at first, but the trick is to think of it as like the French phrase, “Bon Appetit”, or a polite way to say, “enjoy your meal”.

However, as with most things in German, it goes a little deeper than that.

“Mahlzeit” is also a greeting

In most workplaces and households in Austria, lunch is at midday, so if anyone is spotted eating between 11am and 1pm then it’s presumed they are eating lunch. 

And if they are not already eating then it’s expected that they will be soon.

This means the standard greeting during this time of the day is “Mahlzeit”, often said in a cheery, sing-song tone of voice, and regardless of whether the person saying it is eating or not.

For example, a delivery person that turns up during lunchtime will say “Mahlzeit” – and they will expect the greeting in return.

Or colleagues passing each other in the corridor around midday will greet each other with “Mahlzeit” without saying anything else.

It can be surreal, but it’s actually very polite in Austrian culture and is similar to saying “Guten Morgen” (good morning) or “Guten Abend” (good evening).

The only difference is “Mahlzeit” is related to food and signifies taking a break from the working day to enjoy a meal.

Is “Mahlzeit” used differently in Austria than in Germany?

Not surprisingly, “Mahlzeit” is also used in Germany, especially in Western Germany, but not as often as in Austria.

In Germany, the term is typically only used in the workplace and sometimes in an ironic way by young people trying to distance themselves from the conservative culture of their parents’ generation.

But in Austria, people also say “Mahlzeit” when settling down to a meal at home, including the evening meal and at the weekend.

So, when joining Austrian friends and colleagues for lunch or dinner, don’t forget to say “Mahlzeit” – it’s an important part of the culture.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Austria’s empress: These are latest TV shows and movies about Sissi

A new movie and two TV shows are set to reignite the fascination with Austrian Empress Elisabeth, popularly known as Sissi.

Austria's empress: These are latest TV shows and movies about Sissi

She was the Princess Diana of the 19th  century. An impossibly glamorous Austro-Hungarian empress whose star-crossed  love life and tragic end entranced the public.

Now a movie and two new series — including one being made for Netflix — are set to reignite the fascination with Empress Elisabeth, who was popularly known as “Sisi”.

The film, “Corsage”, premieres at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday while the series, “Sisi” — which covers her early life and turbulent marriage to Emperor Franz-Joseph — is streaming in Germany on RTL+ and is broadcasted in Austria on ORF.

READ ALSO: Austria’s ‘original influencer’: Ten weird facts about the Austrian Royal Family and Empress Sissi

It has already raised eyebrows there with its frank depiction of the young empress’ sexuality while garnering favourable reviews from critics.

The series’ Swiss-American star Dominique Devenport told AFP that part of the upsurge in interest in Sisi is a desire “to find more female narratives”.

A portrait of Princess Sissi displayed in her Imperial Apartments in Venice.(Photo by VINCENZO PINTO / AFP

She may have been one of the most famous women of the 19th century, but Devenport said Sisi’s life was “full of extremes, full of pain”.

Married to Franz-Joseph when she was just 16, Sisi chafed against the rituals and strictures of life at the stiff and stuffy Habsburg court.

Devenport said the questions she asks of herself in the series are ones many young people today can relate to: “How can I stay myself; what decisions do I make, how do I keep up with what is expected from me?”

READ ALSO: Austria’s dirndl: a dress for past and present

The rival Netflix series, “The Empress”, is still in production, with release slated for later this year.

A royal star 

Historian Martina Winkelhofer said Sisi was “one of the first very famous women in Europe”.

“You have to consider that she came into Austrian history at the beginning of mass media,” she said.

The inscription on the monument to Empress Elisabeth of Austria, popularly known as “Sissi” in the Volksgarten (People’s Garden) in Vienna. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

The advent of photography turbocharged her fame — “suddenly you had the wife of an emperor who you could really see.”

With the current thirst for stories with strong female characters, it was no surprise that Sisi’s story would be revisited, Winkelhofer argued.

Sisi was also obsessed with her own image, and her figure. In the elegant 19th century Hermes Villa on the outskirts of Vienna where the empress spent some of her later years, curator Michaela Lindinger pointed to the exercise equipment which Sisi used in an effort “to keep young really until her last day”.

READ ALSO: WW1 centenary: Austria and Hungary stand apart on ‘lost grandeur’ of the past

Vicky Krieps, the acclaimed Luxembourg-born actress who made her breakthrough opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in “Phantom Thread”, plays this later Sisi in “Corsage”, withdrawing from her husband and from life at court.

In Sisi’s bedroom, a gloomy statue entitled “Melancholia” is a sign of the sadness that overcame her after the suicide of her son and heir to the throne, Crown Prince Rudolf, in 1889.

Just under 10 years later, she herself died at the age of 60, assassinated by an Italian anarchist.

Enduring fairy tale

Traditionally, however, it has been the fairy tale aspect of Sisi’s life that has drawn attention and made sites like Vienna’s Schoenbrunn Palace among Austria’s most popular attractions.

Sisi has become a representation of Habsburg glamour far beyond Austria’s borders, and is a particular cult figure in China.

Picture taken on January 21, 2022 shows the original bedroom of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, popularly known as “Sissi”, in the exhibition in the Hermes Villa in Tiergarten in Vienna where the empress spent some of her later years. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Indeed, Andreas Gutzeit, the showrunner of the series “Sisi”, said he got the idea to revisit the story after watching the trilogy of 1950s films in which the empress was portrayed by Vienna-born actress Romy Schneider, whose life was also a high-octane mix of glamour and tragedy.

READ ALSO: Here are over 20 things you can do in Vienna for free

Gutzeit said the RTL+ series has already been sold to several countries in eastern Europe and as far afield as Brazil.

The many different facets of the empress’ life mean that “in each period, you have your own Sisi”, insisted historian Winkelhofer.

Over the ages her image has moved from a focus on her physical beauty to her use of charm, to more modern depictions of her as a more assertive and empowered proto-feminist figure.

“You can discover a new woman in each lifetime,” Winkelhofer said.

Where to watch?

  • Sisi, a TV show, is streaming in Germany on RTL+ and is broadcasted in Austria on ORF.
  • The Empress, a Netflix show, will stream later this year in the platform.
  • Corsage, the movie by Marie Kreutzer starring Vicky Krieps, is set to hit the cinemas this summer after its Cannes premiere.