FOR MEMBERS

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

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

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

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.