Same But Different – How Austrian German Compares to German German

Germany and Austria share many of the same values, and much culture and history. Yet, in spite (or possibly because) of that, the little brother staunchly holds on to a distinct cultural identity – most notably in language, which can sometimes make communication.

There is no nation closer to Germany than Austria, which underlines their differences all the more – a case of “the same – only different.” While Germans are often considered direct, at times arrogant but also refreshingly candid, Austrians have a reputation as more charming, nature-loving, and traditional – yet also more roundabout, never getting to the point without a scenic detour (or two). Or so the stereotypes go – as Oscar-winning actor Christoph Waltz (German father, Austrian mother) quipped to talk show host Conan O’Brien, the difference is like that between “a battleship and a waltz.”

When it comes to language, most countries in Europe have their own language, except Germany and Austria. They both speak German. (Okay, okay: Switzerland is also in Europe, but is Switzerdütsch really German?) But as with France and Belgium, or Britain and the US, we are two countries divided by a common language – as any German can attest who innocently asks for a Tüte at their local Billa.

Of course, every nation, region and small village has its own idioms. Some of them are obvious and some really difficult to understand: While the origin of Austria’s G’Spritzter is rather straightforward, Germany’s Schorle is less so. Conversely, the jury’s still out on what exactly is extra in Austria’s Extrawurst. Naturally, some terms are equally obscure – like Tschüss and Baba, (the Austrian Servus, at your service, is clearer, and to an Austrian, more gracious) or Pfifferling and Eierschwammerl (that’s chanterelle mushrooms to English and French speakers).

Above all, there are special terms that only exist in one place or the other. Some are obvious – like Eiskasten and Kühlschrank – some are not, like Sessel and Stuhl. They usually refer to the same thing – but sometimes not even that.

One distinct difference is the large number of words Austrians have appropriated from Hungary, Italy and Central Europe over the years – unsurprising given Austria’s many-peopled past, and further evidence of the bon mot attributed to Metternich that “the Balkans begin on Rennweg.” It’s also interesting to note how many of these terms relate to food – perhaps we are what we eat indeed.

So, in the interest of better cross-border understanding between Piefkes and Ösis, here is a list of distinct Austrian terms and their German counterparts. Which ones do you use?

Austria Germany
Mistkübel lit. a basket for muck, it is not a particularly appealing concept. Whereas …Mülleimer a garbage pail, seems a lot more promising.
Taschentücher lit. a pocket handkerchief.Tempo commerce-conscious Germans are happy to
honor the brand.
Paradeiser is clearly aspirational!Tomate the Germans were content to take it over from Spanish farmers, who stole it from the Aztecs.

But then again, everyone steals from everyone:

Melanzani is stolen from the Italians, whileAubergine is stolen from the French.
Palatschinken from the Latin, placenta, a layered cake with fillings, like similar words across Central Europe; (Frittaten, when cut in strips in the soup)Pfannkuchen is lit. a pancake.
Weissen Spritzer; Weiss Gespritzt
(fizzy)
Weissweinschorle(swirled around) Germans even have their own word for the Austrian version, calling it a Saurer Spritzer, to distinguish it from our sweet-wine and soda.
Fasching girding one’s loins for the “Fasting”, i.e., emphasizes pigging out on the last meat (carne) Karneval the last blowout before Lent.
Burschen who are clearly young and innocent.Jungs, who are clearly young and innocent.
Scheibtruhe carries the suggestion of treasures on board (i.e. Schatztruhe) vs the German …Schubkarre, which is simply a push cart.
Eva Goldschald
Eva Goldschald is always on the run and looking for adventures outside, mostly with her camera. She is a passionate journalist who educated at BURDA journalism school and is now working as a freelance journalist and photographer. As she wants to make the world a little better, her special field is sustainability, environment and the people around it. evagoldschald.com

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