Grüß Gott vs. Guten Tag: What's the difference in Austria?

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Grüß Gott vs. Guten Tag: What's the difference in Austria?
The "Grüß Gott" vs. "Guten Tag" debate is about more than a simple greeting in Austria. (Photo by fauxels / Pexels)

In Austria there are several different ways to greet someone. But a debate has erupted over the use of “Grüß Gott” instead of "Guten Tag". Here's what you need to know.


What's happening?

A greeting from a politician in Vienna has sparked a fierce debate in the Austrian parliament.

On Wednesday, the Lower Austrian ÖVP regional manager Bernhard Ebner took his turn as a respondent during the parliamentary inquiry committee investigating alleged corruption allegations against his centre-right party. 

Ebner had begun his appearance with a “Grüß Gott”, to which SPÖ parliamentary group leader Kai Jan Krainer is said to have “briskly replicated”: “In Vienna, it’s not Grüß Gott, but Guten Tag.” The ÖVP was quick to comment that “Whoever says ‘Grüß Gott’ is now verbally attacked by the SPÖ.” 

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What's the difference between these greetings?

‘Grüß Got’ is widespread in the Catholic German-speaking area: in Austria, in the German states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, and in South Tyrol. Strictly speaking, it means: “God greets you”. It is similar to “Pfiat di Gott”, which comes from “Behüt dich Gott” or the Swiss “Grüezi”. Initially, these phrases meant a blessing.

The spiritual background leads to the fact that “Grüß Gott” is still used today primarily by religiously influenced, more conservative people. On the other hand, more secular, left-oriented people tend to use different formulations such as “Begrüße Sie” (Greetings) or  “Guten Tag” (Good day).

However, the way of greeting currently gives less clear information about worldview and political affiliation. “Grüß Gott” often has as little to do with religion as “Gott sei Dank” (thank God). 

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Additionally, less formal forms of address, such as the more friendly “Hallo” or its English counterpart “Hi”, are steadily finding their way into everyday speech. Amicable greeting idioms such as “Griaß di/eich” or “Servus” also remain popular. 

So what does this have to do with Austrian politics?

The “Grüß Gott”-"Guten Tag" debate is about more than a greeting. It's a reflection of the current strained relationship between two of the main political parties in Austria, according to Der Standard.

It also reflects the difference in attitudes (and politics) between the cities and more rural areas in Austria. Plus, how a simple greeting can be viewed as a symbol of ideology.



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