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GERMANY

How to speak Austrian: These are the major differences between Austrian and High German

Austrians and Germans speak the same language - in theory. But there are a number of small differences which you need to master if you want to truly feel at home in Germany's neighbouring Alpine state. 

The Opera Ball in Vienna, Austria
JOE KLAMAR / AFP

There is a famous saying that what separates Austrians and Germans is their common tongue. Or in German: “Was Deutschland und Österreich trennt, ist die gemeinsame Sprache.” 

We’ve summarised the key differences for any German speakers who plan to visit Austria. 

Austrians are more formal

Austrian German is often more polite and indirect than German spoken in Germany. 

For example while in Germany, people say Guten Tag (good day) or simply Hallo, in Austria Grüß Gott (God bless you) is a more standard way to greet someone.

Younger people in Austria and Bavaria may use the greeting Servus, which is common throughout central Europe. It comes from the Latin servus, and means “I am your servant” or “at your service”.

In Austria it is not considered polite to say succinctly to your waiter in a cafe: “Noch einen Kaffee, bitte!“ (Another coffee please!).

One should use  subjunctive forms, modal verbs and questions, asking instead “Entschuldigen Sie, könnte ich bitte noch einen Kaffee haben?“  (Excuse me, could I have another coffee, please?)

Some see this formality as charming, others find it a bit of a waste of time. 

Most common differences

The best known differences in vocabulary between Austrian German and German German are the following. 

  • Tüte (German) vs Sackerl (Austrian)

If you ask for a Tüte (shopping bag)  to take your goods home from the supermarket in Austria, you will be met with a blank stare. In Austria a Tüte is an ice cream cone. What you want is a Sackerl. 

  •  Treppe (German) instead of Stiege (Austrian)

When taking the stairs, Germans use the word Treppe, while Austrians say Stiege.

  • Kissen or Polster

Germans call a cushion a Kissen, Austrians go for a Polster

Food 

In addition, there are lots of different words for food in Austria compared to Germany. When Austria joined the EU in 1995, a list of 23 typical Austrian expressions for food were registered.

These included cauliflower, which is Karfiol in Austria and  Blumenkohl in Germany; apricots, which are Marille in Austria and Aprikose in Germany; and mince which is Faschiertes in Austria and Hackfleisch in Germany. 

Poetically, rather than the humble Kartoffel (potato), Austria has the Erdapfel (earth apple). And the prosaic Tomaten (tomatoes) become romantic Paradeiser in Austria. 

There are so many words for bread in Austria, that would require another article.

Beer

In Austria, you are more likely to be drinking a beer down your local Beisl (a Yiddish word for pub) than in the German Kneipe. If someone offers you a Jause in Austria, they are offering you a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack.

When you stagger home on the Straßenbahn (tram) in Vienna, remember to call it a Bim (a word which recalls the sound the tram makes as it winds its way through the city).

What to avoid saying in Austria

You will not be popular if you ask for Sahne (cream) in your coffee in an Austrian cafe, the correct term is Obers or Schlagobers (whipped cream). 

Likewise, when you finish eating in Austria, please do not describe the food as lecker (tasty). Many Austrians do not like this word. The Austrian way is to say Es hat mir gut geschmeckt (it tasted good to me)

Goodbye

If you feel like a change from the German Auf Wiedersehen or Tschüss (goodbye), try the Austrian Bussi Baba, which translates to “kisses, bye”. Maybe not one to try out on your boss. 

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AUSTRIAN TRADITIONS

Austrian Christmas dinner: The traditional foods and drinks for the festive season

As a traditionally Catholic country, Austria celebrates Christmas fully: with many typical dishes, beverages and meetings. Here are some of the best.

Austrian Christmas dinner: The traditional foods and drinks for the festive season

For most people from English-speaking countries, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th with a decadent lunch of roasted turkey or ham.

In Austria, though, the main celebrations take place on the evening of December 24th, usually by gathering with friends and family for a meal. The shops will close early, and families will gather to decorate the Christmas tree – yes, it’s not uncommon for Austrians to follow this tradition of only decorating the tree on December 24th.

They also meet for Christmas eve dinner, which can vary greatly depending on family traditions and Austrian regions. From raclette to roasted geese or cold meats, much can be served during the evening.

What does an Austrian traditional Christmas dinner look like?

As mentioned above, Christmas Eve dinner can vary greatly. Austria is a small country, but its provinces and villages often have their own traditions, influenced by neighbouring countries, centuries-old customs or recent immigration.

Each family may also have their own preferences, influenced by location, religion, migration background or individual family members’ preferences. 

However, some dishes are very common on the night of December 24th:

Roast goose or roasted carp

Traditionally eaten with dumplings and red cabbage, roast goose (or duck) is often the main event of the Austrian Christmas dinner, especially  filled with apples, chestnuts and cloves.

Goose is a popular dish throughout the whole winter, starting with the Martinigansl served around St Martin’s Day in mid-November.

Another typical big meal in Christmas eve is the Weihnachtskarpfen, or the Christmas carp. It can be served with potatoes or dumplings and vegetables. Some families serve it with a (lemon) risotto.

Raclette

A Swiss dish with a devoted fanbase in Austria, you’ll be able to taste this at Christmas market stalls or at Austrian homes, especially in the west of the country. Melted cheese is used to top bread or potatoes, before adding extra fillings like meat, onions, and vegetables.

Bratkartoffel and Kartoffelpuffer

Two delicious ways of getting your potato fix this winter. Bratkartoffel are thin, crispy slices of fried potatoes are available through the winter at street food stalls in the Christmas markets as well as the roasted chestnut (maroni) stalls that pop up throughout Austria, while Kartoffelpuffer are potato pancakes usually made in a coal stove, which can be served with different toppings.

Bratwurst with Sauerkraut

Of course the traditional sausage in Austria would also be present in some family homes on Christmas year – even if it’s not that common to eat red meat in the date. You can serve it with sauerkraut and roasted potatoes.

A light meal

Some families prefer to keep it light and simple, serving breads, cold cuts (preferably nothing with red meat due to the religious date, but smoked salmon is a good option), and pates.

The type of meal you should could or should expect to get really depends on personal (or family) preference. Ask ahead if your guests have any dietary restrictions and be prepared to be served any of these delicious traditional dishes (it’s also ok to let the host know if you have any preferences or special dietary requirements).

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