Vienna Slang

Vienna Slang

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We've been in Austria for two days and we still haven't seen a kangaroo." It's an old joke. While Austria is half a world away from Australia, many tend to confuse the two. Australia has cute koalas, Crocodile Dundee and crates of Fosters beer; in Austria, the snowcapped hills are alive with the "Sound of Music," Mozart's masterpieces and Wiener Schnitzels. But even former US President George W. Bush once mistook Australia for Austria, as he thanked former Australian Prime Minister John Howard for sending "Austrian troops" to Iraq. If you're visiting the country, you'll notice, particularly in Vienna, that slang terms abound. Here's a guide to help you fit in like a local on your next trip.
Vienna's local language is officially German, but residents of the city and the rest of Austria use a slightly different dialect than in Germany. Although there are similarities between the local languages of Austria, Germany and Switzerland, each country has its own slang terms and phrases. It's similar to the way English slang in Britain differs from American slang in the United States. Even within the small, landlocked country of Austria, dialects differ between regions. In the capital of Austria, Vienna, the local language is known as Viennese German. Even in Lower Austria, the state surrounding the city, many Vienna slang terms are not understood. The Viennese vocabulary has roots dating back to the Middle High German period (from 1050-1350) and sometimes even the Old High German period - the earliest stage of the German language. Within Vienna slang, colloquialisms were artificially created by poets, philosophers and scholars over the centuries.

Vienna served as a melting pot for many cultures in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Because of Vienna's unique geographical location in Europe, Viennese German has also integrated many expressions from other languages, including Yiddish, Hebrew, Czech, Hungarian, Italian and French. Contrary to popular belief, the German language is full of humor. German irony is not reflected through intonation or gestures - it is reflected in its word play. For visitors to Vienna, this lingo causes many misunderstandings. In order to understand the locals' jokes, you first must get a handle on Vienna slang phrases and colloquial terms. This is vital in order to read between the lines, and to understand amusing and cheeky German comments. But remember, no local will find it amusing if you mistake Austria for Australia. Here are a few common Vienna slang terms and phrases:

1. "Grüß Gott" ("Hello" or literally "May God bless you")

"Grüß Gott" is a greeting most common in southern Germany, Austria and the German-speaking province of SŸdtirol (also known as South Tyrol and Bolzano-Bozen) in northern Italy. "Grüß Gott" is the universal greeting in Vienna local lingo, and is used when meeting someone for the first time, or upon entering a restaurant or shop.

2. "Bim" ("Streetcar")

Vienna has a well-developed public transport network, with buses, trains, streetcars and underground lines taking you almost anywhere in the city. Perhaps the most popular form of transportation for tourists is the tram or streetcar, known as "bim" in Vienna local lingo. Jump on a "bim" and it will take you on a tour of the city's architectural gems, ranging from classical, Baroque-style stately buildings to the funky, colorful apartments of Hundertwasser Village.

3. "Almdudler" (an Austrian soft drink)

Forget about ordering a Coke when you're out for lunch in Vienna - what you need to order is an "Almdudler". This Austrian soft drink was developed in the 1950s, and is sometimes referred to as the national drink of Austria. The original Almdudler is made of water, sugar and herbs.

4. "Er/Sie ist blau"

("He/she is blue") Wine culture plays an important role in Vienna's social scene. Locals and tourists alike frequent the numerous wine taverns, or "Heurigen," to sample Austria's finest wines. However, if you overhear a native mutter in Vienna lingo, "Er ist blau" or "Sie ist blau" it means they are gossiping about someone who is feeling the effects of the wine.

5. "Ksekrainer" (a cheese-filled sausage)

This Vienna slang term for a cheesy sausage is one to remember - or attempt to remember - after a night out drinking in Vienna's many watering holes. Before stumbling home, many Viennese will congregate at various sausage stands throughout the city, and eat a couple of hot dogs to soak up the beer. One of the most popular choices is the Ksekrainer, a sausage which oozes greasy cheese. It's a nasty visual image, but it does a great job of preempting a hangover - especially after a couple of pints of Stiegl, one of Austria's most popular brands of beer.

6. "Owezara" (literally, "Down-puller")

An "Owezara," in the Vienna local lingo, is someone who continually manages to avoid work by constantly doing nothing. In other words, someone who excels at escaping responsibility. The Viennese have a reputation of enjoying life to its fullest, so "Owezaras" in Austria tend to be frowned upon by their peers.

7. "Ins Narrenkastl schauen" ("To look into the fools' box")

Of the multiple Vienna slang phrases, "ins Narrenkastl schauen" is unique to the city. Most English speakers and those German speakers who reside outside Vienna are puzzled by the term. It's the local lingo for people who stare into mid-air, lost in their thoughts. The slang phrase has a negative connotation because people from Vienna feel it is rude when people don't listen to them. For instance, the Viennese get frustrated at those who don't look their fellow drinkers in the eye when they say "cheers" after clinking together a glass of beer.

8. "Wahnsinn" ("Craziness")

People who live outside the city have adopted the local Vienna slang term "wahnsinn" to describe the randomness of life. For instance, a person who suffers from daily periods of forgetfulness will be said to experience "wahnsinn." According to the Austrians, life always has an element of "craziness" to it.

9. "Bis bald" ("See you soon")

"Bis bald" is a common way of saying goodbye in Vienna lingo. It is used at the end of emails and other written correspondence. However, it does not mean that an actual meeting is imminent.

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