Mahlzeit! – Greeting rituals in German

mahlzeitHallo! Guten Morgen! Guten Tag! Guten Abend! Wie geht’s?

Tschüss! Auf Wiedersehen! Bis dann!

All very popular ways of saying “Hello!” and “Good-bye!” in German and probably some of the first few words you had encountered when learning the language.

But what about the likes of….

Mahlzeit!

Ever heard that one?

It is indeed another popular greeting you may occasionally come across.

It literally translates as “meal time” and still carries the general meaning of a dish or a meal.

Hmmm, das ist aber eine leckere Mahlzeit. Yummy, that is a nice meal.

Over the last couple of decades it has also become popular as a greeting when meeting colleagues, friends or family who are sitting down for lunch in a canteen or elsewhere. Kind of like saying “Guten Appetit!” when you are not actually a member of the group of diners and just happen to come across them.

Now it can, however, also be heard as a general informal “Hello!” all day long and is no longer necessarily connected to a meal. I was once working with a guy who used this as his general greeting first thing in the morning when entering the office. Not everyone says it and it’s a matter of personal preference but it is quite popular.

There’s one last additional meaning that the word can have and that is in the context of

Prost Mahlzeit!

This is an ironic term of frustration when a small disaster has just happened in your presence.

Someone drops and smashes some plates on the kitchen floor: Na, prost Mahlzeit!

You heard that you’re all made to do unpaid overtime: Prost Mahlzeit indeed

When someone comes over to a table with a group of people already seated around them, you may notice that they knock on the table while saying “Hallo!”, “Mahlzeit” or whatever greeting of their choice.

See, in Germany it is still customary to shake hands vigorously when meeting folks and parting from them. No problem, when you meet one or two people. A complete nuisance when you’re at a large event:

Get off from your chair, shake hands, say Hello and chat. Sit down.

Then get up again from your chair for the next person to come along, shake hands, say Hello and chat.

Wash, rinse, repeat until you’ve said Hi to everyone at which time the first people will start leaving which will require you to go through the same routine in reverse again to shake hands and say Goodbye.

So the cool kids on the block simply come over to a table with a group of people and say Hello while knocking on the table surface. Everyone can then breathe a sigh of relief knowing that hand shakes will not be required.

Depending on what part of Germany (or indeed Austria or Switzerland) you’re in, you may also come across a number of other regional greetings such as e.g.

Servus!

Grüss Gott!

Grüezi!

As these are dialectal variations it may end up sounding strange if you attempted them without really being strongly connected to that region.

Please be aware that some of those (e.g. “Servus”) can be used for saying both Hello and Goodbye, similar to the Italian Ciao!

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