Sometimes we Austrians tease our German friends by asking them to say Oachkatzlschwoaf…
And then burst out laughing at their attempts to pronounce it.
This word means “squirrel tail” and Germans would call it Eichkätzchenschwanz.
Austrians have their own phrases and slang for a wide range of situations, from saying hello and goodbye to drinking off a hangover. And while you can certainly get by in Austria with basic German words, nothing makes an Austrian happier than a foreigner making an effort to understand the local language.
In this post, we’ll give you tons of regional phrases to get started in your Austrian German adventures, with equivalents provided in both standard German and English.
If you start to struggle with some of these words, don’t get too frustrated—just remember it can be disorienting even for native German speakers!
Squirrel tail, anyone?
Are German and Austrian Two Different Languages?
The renowned Austrian writer and journalist Karl Kraus used to say:
Was die Deutschen und Österreicher trennt ist ihre gemeinsame Sprache. (What distinguishes the Germans from the Austrians is their common language.)
He brought it straight to the point. Germany and Austria share the same language, but with fundamental differences in the way they use it.
The Austrian Hochdeutsch (“high” German) used in writing and formal contexts is fairly similar to the German Hochdeutsch, however, there are huge differences in the way German is spoken in everyday life.
The so-called Mundart (vernacular) is strong and exists in many different forms, varying from region to region. Many words are used exclusively in spoken Austrian and therefore there’s no set way to spell them.
If you’re an advanced German speaker, you may even notice that the spirit of the Austrian language is different and in some ways reflects the mentality of the Austrian people; Germans are very direct and straight to the point, while Austrians tend to sound a bit more vague and ambiguous.
Take former U.S. President Barack Obama’s slogan “Yes we can!” Well, that’s how a German would say it, too. Whereas an Austrian will probably be like, “Yeah, I think we could make this happen.”
You can also observe that Austrian German is a bit more ironic, which occasionally leads to small misunderstandings when Germans accuse Austrians of being inappropriate and Austrians criticize their neighbors’ lack of humor.
Resources to Improve Your Austrian German
For starters, check out the basics of German as they’ll turn out very helpful for your Austrian studies.
Let’s move on to some tips of how to fine-tune your ear to the Austrian dialect:
Listen to Austrian Music
Watch Austrian TV
Is there a better way to train your listening skills than by watching a movie or a TV show? Probably not. You might want to put on the subtitles as Austrian TV can be tricky to understand.
Here are my TV recommendations for you:
Ulrich Seidl’s “Paradise” trilogy (which consists of the movies “Paradise: Love”, “Paradise: Faith” and “Paradise: Hope”) portrays the story of those marginalized by the Austrian society, in a frighteningly realistic way. It’s a very typical example of Austrian cinema in terms of pushing boundaries and criticizing social issues in a way that Hollywood wouldn’t dare to do.
Those of you interested in the history of the Austrian monarchy should check out the “Sissi” collection. These movies are old but gold and tell the story of the Austrian empress Sissi, who became a cult figure after being assassinated in 1898.
“Kommissar Rex” is one of Austria’s favorite TV shows and tells the story of a cop who teams up with a German Shepherd to solve crimes around Vienna.
For more advanced speakers, watching an Austrian stand-up comedian such as Alfred Dorfer is a great way to get a feeling for “real Austrian.” In order to fully understand stand-up comics you’ll need some background knowledge of Austrian politics and social issues.
Look for Opportunities to Practice
Once in Austria, make sure you don’t miss out on any opportunity to practice speaking. Every conversation will help you to polish your pronunciation and take you a step closer to fluency.
Start some small talk with people you meet along the way. Don’t be shy!
Consider staying with locals using platforms such as Airbnb or Couchsurfing! If you plan on staying longer you should check out some Austrian language immersion programs.
If you’re not currently lucky enough to be exploring Austria, you can find a language exchange partner online! Search for Vienna locals on the platform SprachDuo or look here for Austrian members of MyLanguageExchange.com.
26 Austrian German Phrases and Slang for Speaking Like a Local
A German travel phrasebook will be a helpful tool on your trip to Austria.
Most times, but not always!
Let’s take a look at some of the differences between German and Austrian:
Greetings and Goodbyes
|Guten Morgen||Guten Morgen||Good Morning|
|Grüss Gott||Guten Tag/Abend||Good afternoon/evening|
|Auf Wiedersehen/Auf Wiederschauen||Auf Wiedersehen||Goodbye|
|Tschüss, Priat di||Tschüss||Bye (informal)|
|Pfiat di||Tschüss||Bye (informal)|
Before 10 a.m., we usually say Guten Morgen—same as in Germany. This can be shortened to Morgen and will often be pronounced as Moagn.
For the rest of the day, we use Grüss Gott, which translates into “greet God.” The German Guten Tag and Guten Abend aren’t too common. In an informal context you can always say Hallo, Servus or Grüss dich.
The formal version of goodbye is Auf Wiedersehen or Auf Wiederschauen. Among friends and family it’s common to use Tschüss and Pfiat di.
|Gasthaus, Restaurant||Gasthaus, Restaurant||Restaurant|
|Fritattensuppe||Flädlisuppe||Soup with sliced pancakes|
|Wiener Schnitzel||Wiener Schnitzel||Viennese Schnitzel|
|Eine Halbe Bier/A Hoibe||Grosses Bier||Large beer|
|Ein Seiterl Bier/A Seidl||Kleines Bier||Small beer|
|Reparaturseidl||There’s no German word for it.||Small beer that should cure your hangover|
|Topfenstrudel mit Schlagobers||Quarkstrudel mit Sahne||Cheesecake with whipped cream|
|Häferlkaffee||Kaffee mit Milch||Coffee with milk|
|Kaiserschmarrn||Kaiserschmarrn||Emperor’s mess; shredded pancake|
|Kasnocken||Käsespätzle||Typical Austrian dish similar to pasta|
|G’röste Knödel mit Ei||Geröstete Knödel mit Ei||Fried dumplings with egg|
|Almhütte||Almhütte||Chalet in the mountains|
|Sich ausrasten||Sich ausruhen||To relax|
Austria’s gastronomic vocabulary is endless. Whereas a Gasthaus serves mostly local and traditional foods, such as Fritattensuppe and Wienerschnitzel, a Restaurant is a bit more elegant and offers a broader variety of food.
You can also enjoy Jause and some beers at a Gastgarten, the Austrian form of the German Biergarten. One major difference to Germany is the way Austrians order their beer. Eine Halbe Bier, or in dialect A Hoibe, stands for “half a liter of beer” and is equivalent to the German Grosses Bier.
Try to say: I hätt gern a Hoibe, bitte! (I’d like a large beer, please!).
A small beer is called a Seidel or Seiterl. Reperaturseidl is a funny Austrian word, describing a small beer consumed after a long night out to prevent hangovers. Not sure if it works but you should try!
Austrian desserts such as Topfenstrudel mit Schlagobers or Palatschinken are world-famous and sometimes even replace lunch. You should try them together with a Viennese Häferlkaffee.
As far as cultural experiences go, they don’t come more authentic than an excursion to an Austrian Almhütte where you can enjoy some traditional foods such as Kaiserschmarrn, Kasnocken or G’röste Knödel mit Ei. The Almhütte is a great place to relax after a long hike.
Austrians would say Ein Ort zum Ausrasten. (A place to Ausrasten.) Be careful! Whereas ausrasten means relax or recharge for Austrians, Germans would translate it to “getting mad.”
Bist du deppert?
Translates into: Are you stupid?
Meaning: Are you crazy?
Hüft’s nix schodt’s nix.
Translates into: If it doesn’t help it doesn’t harm.
Meaning: You should try!
Da Gscheidere gibt noch.
Translates into: The smarter one gives in.
Meaning: Stop being stubborn!
Die Oaschkortn ziagn
Translates into: To pull the “butt card”
Meaning: To have bad luck
It sounds difficult, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, that’s perfectly normal.
Learning a language takes patience and an incredible amount of dedication. But you’ll see, once you’re in Austria and get to practice on a daily basis it won’t take long and you’ll sound like a local!
Nicole Korlath is an Austrian freelance writer and travel blogger.
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