Austrian traditions For Members

The ten weirdest taboos you must never break in Austria

Julia Hjelm Jakobsson
Julia Hjelm Jakobsson - [email protected]
The ten weirdest taboos you must never break in Austria
Man waiting for someone. Photo by Andraz Lazic on Unsplash

Blending in with the locals in a new country can be challenging. We will guide you through some Austrian taboos to keep in mind.


Don’t enter the office break room at lunchtime without saying "Mahlzeit"

While working in Austria, you will quickly get used to the word “Mahlzeit”, which translates to "bon appétit" or "enjoy your meal" in English. 

"Mahlzeit" is something common to say among Austrians during lunchtime at their workplace. It can be seen as rude if you pass by a colleague taking a bite of a lunch sandwich without greeting them with a "Mahlzeit". 

When greeted with '"Mahlzeit", you should (as a sign of politeness) respond with the same word, even if the other person is not eating.

Don’t use German words instead of Austrian ones

In general, the German spoken in Austria is not like the one spoken in Germany. Many words are completely different, and in Austria, locals tend to prefer using the Austrian versions of the words.

Some examples of the differences come with the words tomato and potato. In Austria, tomatoes are called “Paradeiser,” while in Germany, they go by “Tomaten.” In addition, potatoes in Austria are called “Erdäpfeln,” whereas people refer to them as “Kartoffeln” in Germany.

Paradeiser or Tomaten? Photo by Alex Ghizila on Unsplash

Don't be late

 In Austria, arriving late is considered bad manners, whether for work or a casual meet-up with friends. You do best if you always try to arrive a few minutes before the agreed-upon time. Arriving late can be seen as a lack of respect for those kept waiting.

To maintain good relations with the locals, sending a text saying "Sorry" if you are about to be late could be a good idea, as well as arriving with a valid excuse. 


Don't forget to use the titles

It is often important to refer to people correctly according to Austrian standards, especially in formal settings.

When you talk to strangers in more formal settings, you are often expected to refer to them by their titles, such as "Doktor", "Herr" (Mr.), or "Frau" (Mrs./Ms.), along with their last name. In Austria, this is seen as a sign of respect and good manners.

The titles are also very important when communicating in writing, such as in emails, where it can be important to know what the person studied to be able to refer to them in the correct way, such as "MSC" and the last name if the person completed a Master of Science.


Don't insult the Austrian food such as Leberkäse

Some things from the Austrian cuisine might not look that tempting to you, such as Leberkäse with its pink colour, soft consistent and dripping fat. But even if they do not, try not to criticise the dish too much in front of a local. Austrians are generally proud of their cuisine, and it is a bad idea to express negative opinions about the less "attractive" options.

A good idea is to talk about the dishes you actually like and avoid showing too much surprise if you are served dishes like brain with egg (Hirn mit Ei).

In Austria, Leberkäse is a fast and convenient option when you are hungry. Photo by Allen Rad on Unsplash

Don't ask people to speak High German

Austrians take pride in their dialects, and even though most of them also speak what is known as "High German," they sometimes prefer not to do so.

As a foreigner who has learned more standardised German, it can sometimes be challenging to understand the various dialects, and tempting to ask if they can change their way of speaking. But even if most of them would do so, it is something they prefer not to continue doing for a longer period of time. 

Therefore, while living in Austria, it's a good idea to become familiar with the dialect spoken in the area where you live. However, most Austrians will pick up on your difficulty if you don't understand their dialect and try to "tone it down" so you can talk. 


Don't miss out on bureaucratic procedures

To become a successful and legal resident of Austria, you must get involved with quite a bit of paperwork. Make sure to always check what you need to do when you, for example, arrive in Austria, change addresses, or file your taxes as a freelancer.

There are many specific rules in Austria for how to do things, and if you do not submit certain papers on time, you might have to pay a fee. For example, if you do not change your address on time (within three days of moving), or if you do not cancel it when going abroad for some months, it could become expensive

Don't ignore the traffic rules as a cyclist and pedestrian

You cannot cross the street if the light is red in Austria. Even if there are no cars visible, you have to stay put on your side of the street until the light changes to green. If you fail to do so, you will receive some angry comments from other pedestrians and might also have to pay a high fine.

Also, for cyclists, you have to follow a lot of written and unwritten rules, such as putting reflectors on your wheels and only using the bike path if you do not want angry locals to scream at you.

Parked bikes in Vienna. Photo by aestelle on Unsplash

Don't call people “Du” in a formal setting

Using "Du" to address someone in a formal setting is a big no-no in Austria and often seen as a lack of respect towards the person. In certain settings, such as at universities, government offices, medical appointments, and business meetings, using "Du" is considered especially rude and inappropriate.

To make sure that you do not offend anyone, when you are unsure or when the setting is formal, address people with “Sie” instead of “Du”. Calling people “Du” in Austria is something you do when you are familiar with someone or in an informal setting.


Don't forget to tip

When you visit a restaurant or café in Austria, it is considered good manners to leave a bit of a tip. If you do not, you might receive disapproving looks from the staff.

Most people in Austria tend to tip, either by rounding up the bill or leaving a small tip of 5-10%. However, if you did not like the service, you can express it by choosing not to tip. Or if you really liked it, you can choose to add a higher percentage of tip to the bill.

Woman paying for her consumption. Photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash

Do you agree with our tips? Do you have any other unspoken rules to add? Leave a comment below!



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