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Courtesy in Austria


Courtesy in Austria

Austrians (especially those over 40) take formalities and etiquette seriously. Even if you are the most uncharismatic person in the world, old-fashioned good manners (Gutes Benehmen) can take you a long way in a social situation. On the flip side, there are endless possibilities to put your foot in it and attract frowns for breaking an obscure rule. In general, in most of continental Europe, personnel in shops and other services do not show the same level of politeness people from other continents might be used to. You may find for example that a shop assistant tells you off after asking to buy something. In Vienna a cafe isn't considered a real cafe without bad-tempered and arrogant waiters. Austrians as a people generally "don't like" Germany or Germans at least in the competitive sense and are quite sensitive about it. 80 million to the north in Germany and 8 million in Austria has made this a even more lively rivalry. Don't compare Austria negatively to Germany; you will quickly anger the locals as Germans are seen as over rich bad arrogant driving tourists on a bad day. Perhaps surprisingly for a rather conservative nation, Austria's attitude towards nudity is one of the most relaxed in Europe. The display of full nudity in the mainstream media and advertising can be a shock for many visitors, especially those from outside Europe. It is not uncommon for women to bathe topless in beaches and recreational areas in summer. Though swimming costumes must normally be worn in public pools and beaches, when bathing "wild" in rivers and lakes is normally OK to take one's clothes off. Nudity is compulsory in Austria's many nude beaches (FKK Strand), health spas and hotel saunas. Like in Germany, do not wear bathing suits into saunas or you garner strange looks. Some basic etiquette (Of course most of this doesn't really matter when you are in a younger crowd)
  • When entering and leaving public places Austrians always say hello (Guten Tag or Grüß Gott) and goodbye (Auf Wiedersehen). When entering a small shop, one should say "Grüß Gott" to the shop keeper when entering and "Wiedersehen" when leaving (the "Auf" is normally left off). Phone calls are usually answered by telling your name, and finished with Auf Wiederhren.
  • Don't raise your voice or shout in public, especially on public transportation. It might be interpreted as aggression. If you are speaking a language other than German, it becomes all the more important to speak quietly in order to not be a "loud foreigner".
  • When being introduced to someone, always shake them by the hand, keep the other hand out of your pocket, say your name and make eye contact. Failure to make eye contact, even if out of shyness, is considered condescending.
  • It is a custom to kiss ones cheeks twice when friends meet, except for Vorarlberg, where people kiss each other three times like in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Fake air kisses work to. When you're not sure whether this is appropriate, wait until your counterpart starts the greeting.
  • When drinking alcohol you don't drink until you have toasted ("anstoßen"). Say "prost" or "cheers" and most importantly make eye contact when toasting.
  • In restaurants, it is considered rude to start smoking while someone on the table is still eating. Wait until everybody has finished, or ask if it is okay with everyone.
  • If you have drunk all your wine and want more it's okay to pour some more into your glass, but only after you've kindly asked everyone around you at the table if they need any more.
  • If you really want to show your manners while eating, let your unused hand rest on the table next to your plate and use it occasionally to hold your plate while eating, if necessary. Austrians use generally European table manners, that is, they hold the knife in the right hand and the fork in the left hand, eating with both utensils. It is polite to let your wrists or hands rest on the table, but not your elbows.
  • In most Austrian households it is customary to take off one's shoes. This is a habit prevailing in most of Central Europe, maybe because of general cleanliness, but also because grit and slush from the pavements can cause havoc to a flat in winter.
  • Austrians (like other Central European nations) really love their titles. Many books have been written on the subject of Austria and its Titelwahn (title craze). There are over nine hundred titles from many categories such as job descriptions, academic degrees, honorary titles, official titles, etc.. People who think of themselves as being respectable always expect to be addressed by their proper title, be it Prof., Dr., Mag. (Master's), Dipl.Ing. (Master's in Engineering), Ing. (Graduate Engineer) or even B.A. This is especially true for older people. Younger people are generally much more relaxed in this regard. The Titelwahn is something to be aware of but it is also often subject of satire and self-deprecating humour so it should not be taken too seriously. Foreigners are not expected to understand or care about (all of) it.
  • In German you should always use the Sie form when speaking with strangers or older people the Du is mainly reserved for friends and family. Younger people generally adress each other withDu. Misusing those forms is considered as rude and inpolite. However switching between the forms can be very irrtating especially to English speaker but when picking the wrong form people will excuse that with your few language skills. In Tyrol the Du form is used more frequently than elsewhere.

  • The Most Frequently Asked Travel Questions about Austria

    Nazi References

    Symbols of Nazism, including material questioning the extent of National Socialist crimes or praising its actions, are forbidden in Austria, under section 3g of the NS-Prohibition Law. The penalty for any kind of neo-Nazism is a prison sentence of up to ten years, or a fine (the maximum is €21,600). Foreigners are not exempted from this law. This law also covers shouting Nazi paroles like "Sieg heil" and the performance of the Hitler salute.


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    Austria Travel Guide from Wikitravel. Many thanks to all Wikitravel contributors. Text is available under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0, images are available under various licenses, see each image for details.

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