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
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
It 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
Using 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
Viennese 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
It 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
A 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.