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Customs & Traditions in Austria

Updated: May 5

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General Etiquette

  • Austrians are generally traditional people.

  • They are careful and moderate in their behavior.

  • Being clear and honest is highly valued. Austrians prefer straightforward and direct communication and questions.

  • Respect an Austrian's personal space. Many value their physical and personal privacy when among strangers. Ask permission before photographing or taking a video of someone.

  • It is expected that one will knock on doors before entering.

  • Speaking about personal matters and being more open in body language is more acceptable once you have a well-established relationship with your Austrian counterpart.

  • Do not think Austrians and Germans are the same. There are distinct differences in culture, customs, and values between the two countries. Some Austrians may have a sense of anger towards Germans. As such, don’t refer to an Austrian as a German, and try not to make comparisons between the two countries.

  • Neighborly etiquette also has its rules it is important that common areas such as sidewalks, pavements, corridors (in flats), and steps be kept clean at all times by all associated with them.

  • Presentation and dressing well are also important to Austrians.

  • Even when dressed informally, they are neat and conservative; their clothes are never showy.

  • There is sometimes a strict protocol for dressing appropriately in different situations: formal wear for the theatre or a concert and semiformal wear for better restaurants.

  • Some high-level events may have a dress code and will turn away patrons who are not dressed properly.

  • A good conversation topic is Austria's regional diversity. Austrians enjoy talking about their home region. Many feel a sense of belonging to their region of birth, even if they left many years ago. Also, show a sense of admiration for Austria's natural beauty and landscapes.

  • Austrians generally have a love for gaining knowledge and learning. Show an interest in learning about a topic your Austrian counterpart is passionate about, and likewise, feel free to share your thoughts on topics of interest.

  • As for much of Europe, WWII is a sensitive conversation topic, especially for elderly individuals, speak sensitively and neutrally. The younger generation is more open to such discussions.


Family

  • The family forms the basis of the Austrian social structure.

  • The family is generally small consisting of the parents and one or two children, extended families tend not to reside together, largely due to limited space in housing and the wide availability of childcare options.

  • But in rural families, they are typically larger, with two to four children, they tend to live near the extended family, and will often rely on their family network to help raise children.

  • Weekends are generally devoted to family activities such as outdoor activities.

  • Eating dinner together in the evening is very much the norm.

  • Sundays are usually bookmarked for visiting grandparents for dinner, and/or, enjoying a hike in the country together.

  • When young adults begin their tertiary education or employment, they usually leave their parents’ home to live in their own apartment or with friends.

  • However, due to the competitive housing situation in Austria, many young adults may not leave their family's home until they finish university or will move back in after graduation.


Naming

  • Austria uses similar naming conventions to the English-speaking.

  • Some Austrians have two personal names (one that is a first name and one as a middle name) and a family name (e.g. David Lukas Gruber).

  • Surnames are passed down to subsequent generations through the father’s lineage.

  • After marriage, a couple can choose either of their surnames to be their new surname. The default case is to adopt the surname of the groom.

  • The partner who changes their surname is allowed to use their maiden name alongside their partner's surname, connected with a hyphen (e.g. David Lukas BAUER-SCHMIDT).

  • In the past, one popular naming tradition was to name the firstborn son after the father. In rural areas, this tradition continues but has largely shifted to the middle name.

  • Children may also be given middle names derived from their mother or other relatives’ names.

  • Austrians have recently begun choosing more popular English and international names. However, some traditional names such as Anna and Lukas remain popular.


Meeting & Greeting:

  • Greetings in Austria are formal.

  • The most common greeting is the handshake accompanied by direct eye contact & formal verbal greetings such as ‘Guten Morgen’ (‘good morning’), ‘Guten Tag’ (‘good day’) and ‘Guten Abend’ (good evening).This is normal regardless of age and gender.

  • Among friends and family, people may use casual greetings such as ‘Hallo’ or ‘Servus’ (Hi).

  • In business or social settings, you are expected to greet everyone (women, men, and children) by shaking hands.

  • The higher-ranking people or older person typically extends their hand first.

  • Some Austrian men, particularly those who are older, may kiss the hand of a female.

  • Women may also kiss men, but men never kiss other men.

  • Between friends and family, women may give other women a light hug and kiss. Two kisses are given on each cheek. The kisses are more of an air kiss with cheeks briefly touching.

  • A male from another country should not kiss an Austrian woman's hand.

  • People may greet one another in passing on the street or greet salespeople when entering and leaving the store. by saying “Grϋß Gott” (God bless you). This is an informal and polite way of greeting someone.

  • Titles are very important and show respect during introductions, for example, ‘Doktor Wagner' (Dr. Wagner). Use a person's title and their surname until invited to use their first name.

  • So the use of first names is reserved for close friends, family, and among the youth.

  • When making or answering phone calls, it is the norm to introduce oneself by saying one’s name (typically the surname, but the first name can be used if preferred).As it is considered impolite if the caller or receiver does not say their name, even if accompanied with other polite greetings such as ‘hello' or ‘good morning'.

  • Punctuality is highly valued in Austria. Being on time for meetings, appointments, services, and parties is expected. Deadlines are expected to be met with little flexibility. In social situations, one should arrive approximately 5 to 10 minutes before the selected time. If you expect a delay, inform your Austrian counterpart and give an apology for your delay or they may leave or begin the event without you.



Visiting a home

  • Visiting someone's home without arrangments is considered impolite. Rather, you have to make arrangements in advance or telephone before any visit.

  • Only close friends and relatives are invited into the house, so it is a place where more informal communication may occur.

  • Guests are expected to remove their shoes when entering a home. Hosts may provide a pair of house slippers to keep guests’ feet warm. It is also acceptable to simply wear one’s socks after removing shoes.

  • Guests typically remain standing until they are instructed where to sit by the host.

  • Hosts will often offer the best seat in the home to their guests.

  • If the host leave the room for a moment for any circumstances, they will usually offer guests something to occupy themselves until they can return such as books.

  • Hosts will also offer beverages such as water, tea, coffee, or juice.

  • Austrians take care of their homes, keeping them neat and tidy.

  • In a formal culture such as theirs, the home is the place where people relax and let their hair down.

  • Neighborly etiquette also has its rules that must be observed. It is important that common areas such as sidewalks, pavements, corridors (in flats), and steps be kept clean at all times by all associated with them.


Giving gifts

  • When invited to visit someone’s home, guests are usually expected to bring flowers, chocolates, alcohol, or a small gift appropriate for the occasion, such as a handcrafted item.

  • Gifts should be reasonable in price and not lavish or excessive.

  • Austrians exchange gifts with family and close friends at Christmas and birthdays.

  • Children receive gifts on December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas

  • It is also common for married children to bring a gift when visiting their parents.

  • People will sometimes give gifts to their friend’s children rather than their friend.

  • Gifts should be nicely wrapped.

  • Gifts are opened immediately upon receiving.

  • If giving flowers as a gift, always give an odd number as except for 12, even numbers mean bad luck. Do not give red carnations, lilies, or chrysanthemums.

Dining & Food:

  • Table manners are Continental in Austria.

  • You have to hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.

  • You have to keep your hands on the table during meals, not gesturing with utensils, and not placing elbows on the table while eating.

  • Remain standing until invited to sit down. You may be shown to a particular seat.

  • Put your napkin on your lap as soon as you sit down.

  • Do not begin eating until all people have been served and the host has indicated it is time to start. when the host says “Guten Appetit” or “Mahlzeit”it is a sign to start eating.

  • Finish everything on your plate.

  • Indicate you have finished eating by laying your knife and fork parallel on your plate with the handles facing to the right.

  • At a dinner party in someone’s home, hosts will usually always offer a second serving to their guests. However, they will also accept a polite ‘Nein, danke’ (no thank you).

  • The host of the event usually gives the first toast. Guests will return the toast later in the meal. To do a toast, people raise their glasses and clinks glasses while maintain eye contact. Austrians typically say “Prost”, “Prosit” or “Zum Wohl” when they toast (all three meaning “to your health”).

  • An honored guest offers a toast of thanks to the host at the end of the meal.

  • If invited to dine out, the person who extends the invitation typically pays the bill in the restaurant. Struggles over the bill are not usually appreciated.


Communication style

  • Austrians tend to be somewhat reserved, formal, and polite during initial conversations. Once a relationship is established, they tend to become more warm and open, yet they maintain a degree of formality and politeness.

  • When communicating, Austrians are often direct. People tend to speak honestly, clearly, and explicitly to arrive straight to the point.

  • Austrians avoid asking personal questions until they have developed a relationship with their counterpart.

  • Losing one’s temper in public is highly frowned upon and seen as rude.

  • The word ‘Schmäh’ is a common expression that describes Austrian (especially Viennese) humor. The Austrian sense of humor is usually subtle, indirect and often contains sarcasm and dark humor.

  • Public displays of affection such as kissing, hugging, and touching are accepted.

  • Austrians do not generally touch each other during a conversation as this can be seen as an invasion of one's privacy. Offer an apology if you accidentally bump into someone.

  • But, this is not always the case among friends and family. Among those they are close to, Austrians may show affection publicly through hand-holding, walking arm in arm, or hugging.

  • Maintaining eye contact during conversations is very important to Austrians. It is considered polite and a sign of respect to maintaining eye contact.

  • When talking to a group, be sure to make equal eye contact with everyone present.

  • Hand gestures are used conservatively in conversation. Indeed, people tend to express themselves more through words than gestures and body language. In general, motioning with the entire hand is considered more polite than using the index finger.




Other Consideration

Marriage in Austria

  • Many Austrians begin dating when they are in their mid to late teens. Typically on a date, the woman and man will cover their own expenses.

  • The age of first marriage has increased. In rural areas, people typically marry when they are in their mid to late 20s, while those in urban areas marry in their late 20s to early 30s.

  • A civil ceremony is required for the marriage to be legal, yet some couples will also have a church wedding.

  • The civil ceremony tends to be quite small; the only guests are usually the couple’s family and witnesses.

  • Religious ceremonies are a much larger affair and involve various traditions.

  • Some couples choose to cohabit before marriage and same-sex couples can register for a civil partnership.

  • Divorce has become more common in Austria, and there is little social stigma attached to getting a separation.

  • Men were the head of the household. This is still the case in older and rural families. Among urban and younger couples, the husband and wife are becoming more equal in their roles in the family.

  • Government assistance parents who has young children, when having a child, a woman is allowed to 8 weeks leave before childbirth, followed by another 8 to 12 weeks afterward.

  • Maternity leave is typically followed by ‘Karenz', parental leave of at least 2 months.

  • This type of leave can be extended until the child's second birthday and can be split between the mother and father. Daycare facilities also enable women to re-enter the workforce after having children, although it is common for mothers to return as part-time workers.


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