How to Speak Like a Vienna Native

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Kuess die Hand, gnaedige Frau
Kuess die Hand, gnaedige Frau (Image: vienna statue 1 image by Bosko Martinovic from Fotolia.com)

Most likely if you are in Vienna, you will get by just fine with English and a smattering of standard German phrases. However, "Wienerisch" (VEE-nuh-rish), as the form of German that is spoken in Vienna is called, has idiosyncrasies all its own, and even Germans and other Austrians may have difficulty understanding the pronunciation, elongated vowels and expressions indigenous to this city. Many of the variances stem from vocabulary, as Viennese German borrows heavily from outside influences such as Hebrew, Czech, Italian and French. Despite these differences, the language of Austria and its capital city shares the same grammar as standard German. With these phrases to get you started, you will be speaking like a Vienna native in no time.

Speak Like a Local in Vienna

"Kuess die Hand"

Although chances are only distinguished older gentlemen will say this to new lady acquaintances, "kissing the hand" as the Viennese do, literally and/or saying it outright, will show how dashing and charming you, the visitor, are. Say "kyoos dee hahnd" (actual kissing optional) to female associates for that extra touch of gentility.

"Ein grosser Brauner, bitte"

To be in Vienna is to experience the coffeehouse culture, a tradition over 300 years old, and if you go to any of the hundreds of "Kaffeehaeuser" (KA-fay-HOI-zer), or coffeehouses, you must know that to ask for a mere "Kaffee" will not pass muster with your server, who will expect to be given specific instructions, such as "Ich moechte gern" (Ik moosht-uh gayrn) followed by the coffee specialty of your choice.

Asking for the above ("ine gross-uh brown-uh") will get you a double espresso with milk.

A request for "ein Fiaker" (fee-AHka) may not bring you a horse-drawn carriage or its driver anymore, but the drink it is named after will be strong black coffee with kirsch and whipped cream. If you want "ein Einspaenner" (INE-shpennuh), another throwback to equine transportation, rev up for a large Viennese mocca (variant: "mokka") with whipped cream, dusted with cocoa. (Note: "Einspaenner" can also mean a frankfurter snack.)

Remember, only Germans say "Sahne" for whipped cream. Here, they say "Schlagobers" (shlahg-OBuhs).

If you are a "Zuckergoscherl" (TZOOka-goshirl), which can be a term of endearment or can mean "sweet tooth," your coffeehouse will most likely tempt you with a dizzying display of classic treats such as chocolate-enrobed Sachertorte, the refined Esterhazy torte or flaky Apfelstrudel.

"Mahlzeit"

Say "MAal-tzite" before starting your meal, and wait for others to begin before chowing down. If you are a guest at someone's house, be sure to bring a gift for the host, perhaps a "Doppler," or a 2-liter bottle of wine. If you are raising a toast, say "Prost" and make eye contact. Should you get "eingpritzt" (INE-gupritzt), perhaps consider a hangover meal of goulash.

With so many delicious choices, you, too, will agree that Viennese cuisine is "gschmakig" (gshMAkig).

"Lamourhatscher"

You are in Vienna, home to concert halls and opera houses and, of course, the annual "Wiener Opernball" (Vee-nur OPE-burn-ball) during Carnival season. The waltz is not the only dance in Vienna; in addition to having traditional folk dances, Vienna is home to the "Lamourhatscher" (lamoorhotcher), a slow, romantic song you dance to with a partner.

"Pfiat di"

When saying good bye, you can use "Auf wiedersehen," or you can say it the Viennese way, pronounced "FI-at dee," a contraction of the German farewell "God protect you."

"Hawedere" (HA-va-dayra), or even shorter, "D'ehre" (dayra), is another way to bid good bye.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use honorifics and titles such as "Magister" and "Doktor"; when in doubt, use a higher title.
  • Liberally use words like "danke" (Dank-uh) for thanks and "bitte" (Bitt-uh), meaning "please," to express appreciation and general courtesy.
  • Never use the impolite "du" form of addressing someone in German; always use "Sie," especially with someone you have just met. Exceptions are children and close friends.

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