“Grüß Gott!”, literally translated to “Greet God”, is one of the most common greetings you’ll hear around the city rather than the “Guten Tag” you may have learned from Rosetta Stone or the movies.
- Grüß Gott = Austria
- Guten Tag = Germany
Another Austrian greeting you may hear is “Servus”, or “Servas” depending on the Austrian who’s saying it. It’s just another, less formal way of saying hello. When someone greets you with Grüß Gott, Servus, or simply “Hallo”, the expectation is for you to greet them back.
If you get spooked as I did because of your lack of German knowledge, just try to repeat back what they said to you. Your accent will most likely give you away anyway which will help them to understand why your eyes are so wide.
Once you get past the initial greeting and move on to a more conversational level, always use the formal “Sie/Ihenen” when talking to a person you don’t know.
This is especially important if you’re talking to someone older than you (i.e. an Austrian grandma). In addition to using the formal Sie/Ihnen, wait for whoever the Sie/Ihnen is to let you know it’s okay to switch to the informal du. Follow their lead and do what they tell you. (Eh? EH?)b
- Use Sie/Ihnen when you’re meeting someone new and/or older than you
- Ask “Siezen oder duzen wir?” if you’re eager to switch to the informal; by doing this you’re politely asking “Are we being formal or informal during this conversation?”
With most other Americans, I can assume it’ll take me about 2 to 3 seconds to tell them goodbye. A quick “See ya!” will usually suffice.
In Austria, however, I can usually assume it’ll take at least 1 minute or more to part ways. And since it’s expected that you tell each individual in the room goodbye, I set aside time that allows me to say my goodbyes and catch the next necessary bus without having to rush.
- Give yourself time to tell each individual goodbye; in other words, don’t say “Ciao!” and take off
- Exceptions to the individual goodbyes rule are:
- kids – If you have kids who clearly need to get home, most will understand and a quick wave and loud “Tschüß” will be fine
- illness – They’ll understand
- emergencies – Of course
- large groups – Sometimes you just can’t say bye to everyone
There are formal and informal ways to say goodbye.
- Reserve goodbyes such as Wiedersehen, Wiederhören (for when you’re on the phone), or Wiederschauen for your Sies and Ihnens
- “Schönen Tag/Abend noch” is accepted across the board
- If you are at the receiving end of this phrase, an easy and polite way to respond is with words like “Ebenso”, “Ebenfalls”, or “Gleichfalls”, all of which mean “likewise”. You can also bring back the formal with “Ihnen auch” which means “you too”
- Tschüß, Bussi, Dickes Bussi, Ciao, Baba are the common ways to say goodbye to the Dus in your life
- Extra points for wishing “Schöne Grüße an” for someone who is not present (ex: if your friend is at brunch but his partner is not, it’s kind to tell him to please tell his partner that you said hello)
That about covers it. Hopefully, this will aid you during your first few weeks in the city or days of touring. Keep in mind that though the cultural expectations of this city are the same, how or when Austrians say hello and goodbye does not apply to all Austrians. A person might greet you in an elevator, but the next may not. Another may take just a few seconds to tell you bye, and another may not. These are merely my observations and experiences which will be different from your own.
Which, if you have some collected, share your stories! It’s within the space of our stories that we can find comfort, laughter, and helpful information to live a healthier, more fulfilling life abroad.
Holly is an 11-year Vienna resident who is bad at writing bios. Alongside family life, she works with study-abroad students who have described her as having “squirrel energy” and being “too awake.” Visit her Instagram @how_to_vienna: Easier Tips for Easier Travel where she creates simple how-to guides for explorers of Vienna and Upper Austria.