Don’t you dare ask an Austrian for a “Brötchen” with a “Wiener.” You might end up with a Schlag.

Any foreigner can tell you that German is a verdammt hard language to learn. It’s even more difficult to learn the subtle differences of usage, idiom and dialect that separate Austrians from their brothers-in-tongue from Germany (known to highfalutin locals here as “Piefke”). Expats, take heed: here are a few examples of Piefkenese (a.k.a., Hochdeutsch) that are certain to drive Austrians up the wall (for better or worse)!

#1 – Brötchen

160px-Kaisersemmel-Walk right up to any Würstelstand and order a Wiener with Brötchen and you will not only earn a sideways glance, but you are also in danger of staying hungry. Austrians love their Frankfurter with Semmel and go crazy when German tourists (or students) do not adapt their idiom. Non-native speakers may get a pass for their innocent mistake, but only once.

 

#2 – Guten Tag

guten_tagIt might be one of the first phrases that you learn in your Intro to German course, but greeting Austrians with Guten Tag will not get you any brownie points in Vienna. People here still greet each other with the storied Grüß Gott which basically means “God bless you.” It may have Catholic roots, but just about every Austrian uses it regardless of their faith, from your kebab guy to Mariahilf’s bobos to your Viennese hairdresser – someone you probably shouldn’t upset before getting your hair cut.

 

#3 – Tüte

tueteUsing this word to ask for a shopping bag at a local supermarket or boutique will not only upset Austrian merchants, it will also totally confuse them. What Germans call Tüte is a Sackerl in Austria. Austrians might eat their ice cream in a Tüte, but certainly wouldn’t put their groceries in one. And do not forget to pronounce the –erl in the end (this may take some practice), because Sack on its own means, well, sack – and that’s an entirely different thing altogether .

 

#4 – Mutti & Vati

While Austrians might use Vati and Mutti with their grandparents, most do not refer to their parents with these names. Instead, they will opt for the more colloquial Mama and Papa. While Germans may say it both ways, Austrians only use Vati and Mutti as a way to mock their parents. No, really.

 

#5 – Sahne

sahneViennese waiters are not exactly known for their speed and friendliness, a fact that even Austrians deplore. However, when Herr Ober reacts indignantly to a customer ordering Kaffee mit Sahne, he can be sure to win back his compatriots’ sympathy. So, next time that your waiter asks you, “mit oder ohne Schlag” (with or without cream), don’t switch to Sahne or you might get a Schlag of another sort (a slap or hit).

*Curiously enough, Austrians never held their country’s pop-music hero Udo Jürgens to account that one of his greatest Schlager (hit songs) is titled Aber bitte mit Sahne. Apparently, when it comes to music and foreign fame, all bets are off.

 

#6 – Geldautomat

bankomatIt may be logical, but logic is sometimes the enemy of all literary beauty. Thus Austrians reject the prosaic Geldautomat and prefer to get their cash from the nearest Bankomat. If German is the language of portmanteaus, why not go crazy with them? English speakers, having forgotten long ago what ATM stands for, may understand.

 

#7 – lecker

kekseA lot of Austrian food is delicious, but no matter how courteous you want to be to your host, do not resort to the word lecker. Perhaps you can get away with Leckerli, but only if you want to give your dog or cat a little treat. Otherwise stick to the more straightforward but perfectly fine Es schmeckt sehr gut – it might sound less sophisticated, but it is the best way to not spoil your Austrian friend’s appetite. And if you’re tasting her cookies (that’s “biscuits” to you Brits), be sure not to say that you think her Plätzchen are lecker, because her Kekse most certainly schmecken sehr gut.

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Born 1991, studied Journalism, History and International Affairs. After stints with Cafébabel in Paris and Arte in Strasbourg, he is now working as a free journalist in Vienna and finishing his Master's degree in Global History. Fields of expertise are politics, economics, culture, and history. Photo: Visual Hub
  • Stanitzel

    #3 Even the cone wasn’t called that way but “Stanitzel” instead. Unfortuantely it seems the ongoing germanification drove that word close to extinction 🙁

  • Catherine M. Hooker

    In my six years in Austria I think I have never heard an Austrian say “mal gucken” either, and I quickly learned the some what philosophical “Schau ma mal.”

  • Kastrama Siarhei

    Come on!!
    Viennesses do call ATMs as Geldautomats 🙂

    • Dominik

      Who does? Austrians certainly don’t.

    • spqr

      Do you mean “Vienna, Illinois”? 😉

      Yes, recently there have been unfortunately placed some ATM abominations labelled “Geldautomat”
      but generally – as Dominik already wrote – no local would ever call it that way. It is Bankomat, plain and simple.

      • Kastrama Siarhei

        I meant – Vienna, Wien 🙂
        I can barely compile two words in German. So, when I was living in Vienna, I encountered geldautomat quite often with no idea about German origin of the word 🙂
        However, for me the most remarkable difference was in vegetables’ names, e.g. erdapffel or paradaizen (or so) 🙂

        • spqr

          Where did you encounter it? I *HIGHLY* doubt in the spoken language (if so, it was most likely foreigners – mostEST likely Germans). Locals simply wouldn’t use that word.

          If you meant in its written form however, then yes, as I mentioned before there are a few machines where their operating bank apparently chose “Geldautomat” for some obscure reason. Nonetheless though, it sounds foreign is not local.

          • Kastrama Siarhei

            got it, mate 🙂

    • nek

      nope, they dont

  • spqr

    Do you mean “Vienna, Illinois”? 😉

    Yes, recently there have been unfortunately placed some ATM abominations labelled “Geldautomat” but generally – as Dominik already wrote – no local would ever call it that way. It is Bankomat.

  • MBS

    So are we supposed to learn from this that Austrians are all intolerant and touchy when it comes to the way people use language? I hope not.

    • spqr

      How would you get that impression? Simply because they want to preserve their own language?

      • MBS

        How is getting “pissed off” or being “driven up the wall” when a German speaker uses German differently from an Austrian speaker helpful to the project of “preserving” one’s language?

        I can’t imagine anyone in Germany getting “pissed off” at an Austrian visitor saying “Grüss Gott” or using Austrian terms for stuff. How silly would that be?

        Neither, for that matter, do I imagine Austrians being so narrow-minded as to get pissed off when the reverse happens, yet the article wants us to believe they are and do. Maybe the good folks writing this felt that nothing else of any importance was happening in the world.

        • spqr

          The headline might exaggerate, but that would be hardly the first time on the Internet (or other media for that matter), so one should be able to read between the lines.

          So yes, of course the chances of someone getting “beaten up” because a someone got “pissed off” are slim, but this still does not change the fact that the terms mentioned in the article are simply not appreciated in or local to Austria. And this is what the article is trying to say. The same goes for Switzerland, when it comes to German dialects.

          About the other way round, this might also have a lot to do with the number of people (AT/CH 8m vs DE 80m) and might be similar to the perception of British English in the US and vice versa.

          There are already way too much Germanisms in Austria and Switzerland anyhow, so yes I do appreciate this article and agree with it.

        • Schattentochter

          Dear MBS, I’m sorry, but I strongly have to disagree with you not being able to “imagine anyone in Germany getting “pissed off” at an Austrian visitor” -> You see, as an Austrian, I’ve been to Germany quite often. You know what happens whenever two or three of us Austrians talk to each other and use words like “Semmel”? We’re called out. “It’s called a “Brötchen”, you know? Schluchtenscheißer!” -> Same goes the other way round. Say “Brötchen” in Vienna and they’ll look at you, grinning devilishly, mentioning “You know, it’s pronounced “Semmel”.” -> When it comes to Austria, getting “pissed off about Germans” is something special (same goes for Germans about Austria) – we have that little humoristic feud going on and keep on mocking each other on a permanent basis. We won’t ACTUALLY be angry, we’ll just act annoyed^^

          It’s “just an Austrian and German” thing 😉

          • spqr

            I am afraid it is not as simple as “a thing” but those issues are more deeply rooted in the fundamental differences in culture and mentality.

            While Germans often tend to perceive Austrians and Swiss as their cute little somewhat “retarded” brothers-in-language, there is generally no real hostility towards them. On the other side, however, the feelings can be a lot more of a serious note. I would not say necessarily “hostile” either (even though there are sometimes such unfortunate cases) but the scepticism is definitely a lot stronger.

            So yes, using those words in Austria (or Switzerland) won’t get you in trouble and most people will most likely not be angry, but the annoyance factor will be still a tad more than just acted out.

          • Schattentochter

            Here comes the funny part: Austrian German is closer to the language’s roots than German German is xD

        • Beth Tucker Griesauer

          It’s humor! Don’t take it personally.

          • MBS

            Why personally? I’m not Austrian. Austrians might take the implication of the article personally, but from the comments it seems that instead many go “heck yeah, we *are* intolerant and touchy about language!”. Weird.

          • spqr

            If you want to call Austrians intolerant and touchy because they expect the slightest sign of respect towards their language and culture, so be it. Deal with it.

            I believe it is fairly obvious (and has been explained a few times) what point this article is actually trying to make and you seem to have chosen to (deliberately) misinterpret it.

            Based on your other postings on Disqus, would I be right in my assumption that you are German?

          • MBS

            “If you want to call Austrians intolerant and touchy…”

            Just to be clear: *I* don’t want to call Austrians, and certainly not *all* Austrians, anything (except maybe Austrian). My point is that this is the implication of the article, and that effectively the article paints them that way, as well as some of the comment writers here, you chiefly among them.

            I think its absurd and neurotic to interpret a German person not using the Austrian idiom while in Austria instead of their own as indicative of a lack of respect for Austrian language and culture.

            “would I be right in my assumption that you are German?”

            You wouldn’t, but how could that possibly even matter? Are you one of those people that evaluate a position based on the nationality of the person expressing it? On second thought, I suppose I should not be surprised.

          • spqr

            > I think its absurd and neurotic to interpret a German person not using the Austrian idiom while in Austria instead of their own as indicative of a lack of respect for Austrian language and culture.

            Pardon me if I am not going to reiterate for the nth time now what has been already covered quite a few times by different people in this very comment section and what should have been actually obvious from the very beginning.

            > You wouldn’t, but how could that possibly even matter?

            Interestingly enough though, you do write at a near-native level along with typical German expressions.

            Anyhow, I did not call you names and did not allege anything and would really appreciate if you could reciprocate that courtesy and refrain from personal attacks and allegations as to what “type of person” we are or aren’t. Thank you.

            My question was intended to clarify your background, as, if you were German (particularly one of those living in Austria) it could explain your apparent touchiness on this innocent article.

          • MBS

            “Pardon me…”

            Totally. Not the least reason for it being that reiteration isn’t really a very effective form of argument.

            “Interestingly enough though, you do write at a near-native level along with typical German expressions.”

            Interestingly, I do the same in English, even though I am not British, either. It’s almost as though there is no causal connection between language skills and the country issuing one’s passport!

            “it could explain your apparent touchiness on this innocent article.”

            The article does not even discuss Germans, but Austrians, and I should perhaps point out that the thrust of my comments was directed at the things it says about *them*, which I consider unfair, the silly comments by what appears to be (some) Austrians here notwithstanding. Then again, if all my previous comments didn’t communicate that point, what are the chances this one will?

            “refrain from personal attacks and allegations as to what “type of person” we are or aren’t.”

            What “personal attack”, and what allegation? *You* started the personal speculation about me, I reciprocated by speculating about your motivations to do so.

            Also, who is “we”???

          • spqr

            > It’s almost as though there is no causal connection between language skills and the country issuing one’s passport!

            Good for you, if there isn’t in your case. In most cases (or at least THE average/typical one) language skills do bear (at least) some meaning as to where a person might have grown up or (more colloquial) is from.

            > the things it says about *them*, which I consider unfair

            Not sure what you considered unfair or silly about that. It was fairly obvious what this article was trying to say, additionally commenters here tried to clarify and explain it to you. You still choose to see it rather as a malicious issue either by or about Austrians.

            > What “personal attack”, and what allegation?

            “Are you one of those people”

          • MBS

            “Not sure what you considered unfair or silly about that.”

            I believe I mentioned that before — taking issue with Germans using the German idiom instead of the Austrian one is, IMO, silly, neurotic, provincial, petty, and bizarrely intolerant. That’s not how I have experienced Austrians for the most part, even if some here seem to say that that’s how they are, occasionally, and hilariously, in the tone of patriotic defiance.

            “It was fairly obvious what this article was trying to say”

            I’d agree, it said it pretty plainly. Which is also why all that exegetical tea leaf reading you refer to as attempts to “clarify” is quite redundant.

    • bobberwyn

      Umm, do you not recognize a humor column when you see one?

      • MBS

        Not so easy in this case, given the absence of funny.

    • Michael Mamer

      There is no intolerance here. Some words are not appreciated because we have our own culture and language (Austrian German) and using them makes it look like you haven’t bothered learning the differences to German German. It seems somewhat impolite to us. However, some particular words make us cringe, especially “lecker” and “gucken” (it’s a grave omission in the list), it’s almost physical pain. I’m not sure why, maybe these words somehow encompass all the differences between German and Austrian culture. Maybe this could be an interesting scientific topic.

      • MBS

        Hm, it sounds like you are saying that Austrians are, in fact, intolerant and touchy when it comes to the way people use language. That would be very sad for them.

        • Michael Mamer

          You didn’t realize that you were being intolerant and touchy in your replies, didn’t you? We are no more intolerant to Germans speaking German German than to Americans speaking English when traveling abroad and expecting everyone else to speak English. Meaning, we consider it impolite but we will still talk to you and judge you based on the person you are rather than where you come from.

      • MBS

        Uh-huh, so you physically cringe when people use words slightly differently from you, but no intolerance anywhere. Got it.

        ” I’m not sure why, maybe these words somehow encompass all the differences between German and Austrian culture.”

        Suppose they did, that would somehow be a problem? The fact that a speaker, through their use of words, “reveals” that he or she might be from another country?!? Do you have any idea how weird that sounds?

    • Michael Bernstein

      The linguistic rivalries between Germans and Austrians are no different than differences in English usage between Americans, Canadians, Irish, British, Australian… They serve the purpose of national identification, of course. But when someone is purposefully excluded and shunned because of his/her “foreign” usage of language, it is a shame and probably exposes deeper, uglier nationalist sentiments.

      I don’t think that’s what was presented in this article. It’s too bad you perceived this post as “unfunny” and expressing some sort of xenophobic, reactionary vibe. The headline’s overstatement should have tipped the reader off that this was humor, but I guess that didn’t work.

      • MBS

        Well, if you read some of the posts here, it seems that the literal interpretation of the article captures the sentiments of at least some Austrians.

        It’s also interesting that you use “linguistic rivalry” to describe the relationship between German and Austrian, but “differences” between the various flavors of English, even if you say that there is no difference between them. I don’t think I have ever experienced, say, Americans being offended by a British accent or word usage. If anything, it’s a veritable magnet for the opposite sex.

        • Michael Bernstein

          You may be right about Americans’ attitudes towards Brits (conditioned by decades of Hollywood and Madison Avenue connecting British accents with erudite sophistication), but might want to ask some Brits how they feel about Americans, Aussies and Kiwis. I know a few METROPOLE contributors who cringe when their “humour” is turned into mere humor.

  • Arigan

    It really pisses me off when someone comes to me and says “Guten Tag” /sarcasm. This list is weird.

  • Kira☆DeKira

    #1 Well, we in Bavaria always use Semmel.
    #2 And we say “Grüß Gott”, well, more the elders, but we say this too.

  • Gottfried Wiesberger

    Du hast also Geschichte studiert und nimmst für Österreich den Ständestaat-Adler…? Interessant.

  • rollbrett

    thats so stupid, i dont really care about that stuff..and i say Guten
    tag or hello all the time, because i dont like to say grüß gott due to
    my antipathy to religion. I think we should be over that. Makin small
    fun of it, ok. But makin a big issue out of words, is really childish.

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