Wednesday, April 2, 2014

I am your servant

Learning a new language, you always discover phrases and sayings that seem hilarious, ridiculous or down right strange. Whilst we have equally as bizarre sayings in English, we are so used to saying them that we don't even recognise the strangeness in what we're saying. Learning a new language in situ gives you the added bonus of learning local greetings and customs that are specific to an area. Here in the Tirol district my two favorite common greetings are 'Servus' and 'Mahlzeit'. they are also used in other parts of Austria and Germany to differing extents. 

Servus is a greeting that is used all day for any situation where you encounter someone. It can be used with friends and strangers alike as a hello, a goodbye, a polite greeting, when you walk into a shop, when you bump into someone on the street, if there is more than one person involved, you can use it. 'Servus'... 'Servus!' The person will always repeat the greeting and if someone says it to you it is polite to reciprocate. For a casual encounter nothing more need be said, 'Servus'...'Servus' and carry about your business. Servus literally translates to 'I am your servant' or 'at your service'. Whilst it isn't taken at its meaning and rather is used as a politeness it still makes me giggle thinking about an encounter with the direct meaning. Imaging walking into a cafe or bumping someones shoulder, 'I am your servant', 'I am your servant', images of top hats and walking canes fill my mind.

The other greeting that makes me giggle is Mahlzeit. Mahlzeit is used when people are sitting down to a meal, going out for dinner (or breakfast or lunch...) and in some areas is used as a greeting between 12 and 2 whether or not food is involved. When I first heard the phrase I assumed it would have a similar translation to bon appetite, however I soon found out that the literal translation is 'meal time'. I have heard the greeting used in conversations with gusto, 'Hello, how are you? Meal time!' Sitting down to dinner, 'Meal time'...'Meal time!' Passing someone in the street 'Meal time'...'Meal time!' When looking up Mahlzeit I discovered is actually a shortened term of the phrase 'Gesegnete Mahlzeit', meaning 'Blessed Meal time', which makes more sense, like many phrases in the English language the formality has been dropped, however the meaning is still there. Though for anyone who is not from the area the true meaning is lost so all you hear is 'meal time', which alone sounds funny to me.

I often wonder what strange things we say in the English language that must confuse people or make them giggle when they're learning our language, or travelling around different English speaking countries. Of course being that it is all natural to me none of it seems strange. I'm sure I'll think of some soon though.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    Nice to know the meaning of "Servus". I have asked some Austrians here but hardly anyone could confidently tell me what Servus means.
    Similarly Gruess Gott is also used :) Greeting to God !!!