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What do Austrians really think of Germans?

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What do Austrians really think of Germans?
Photo: DPA
13:37 CEST+02:00
Germans and Austrians are the odd couple of Europe. They speak almost the same language, share a troubled history, and watch many of the same TV shows.

But their relationship could be compared to that of the Scots and the English, or the Canadians and Americans. At least from the Austrian side, it can appear to be a little grudging, and usually neither nationality wants to be mistaken for the other.

Amy is half-German and half-American, but has lived in Vienna with her Austrian husband for 15 years.

“In my experience, though most people don't know my mum is German, Austrians tend to think of Germans as arrogant, show-offish, uptight, too-direct and lacking humour (especially when it comes to Austrians being mean to them to their face),” she says.

Regional difference

However, Xaver Rhomberg, who’s in the process off setting up his own company based in Vienna, says that when it comes to getting information from a German firm “they are always really helpful, and very friendly - quite a contrast to the Austrians!”

But he adds that when Germans come to Austria “we are always a little taken aback by their accent - the way they speak makes them sound like they always know better than us. And often we just don’t understand their humour.”

He says that Austrians tend to distinguish Germans by the regions they come from, and he generally gets along better with Germans from the north and the south of the country.

Rhomberg says that he previously dated two German women, and that the relationships didn’t work out - perhaps because of the lack of a shared sense of humour. “I think when it comes to making jokes, it’s better to speak English with Germans.” And he says he does feel offended if he’s mistaken for a German in France or England.

Michael, a journalist from Linz, agrees that Germans are different, especially when it comes to a sense of humour. “They have a very different, if any, type of humour. And they have a totally different, much more rigid approach to work and business. The cliche is “the corrupt but sweet-talking Austrian” versus “the very correct German” - and in my experience this is true.

Broadly I think people from the former East Germany are viewed as the ‘better’ Germans - they seem to be more humble and less rigid and they have a better sense of humour. I don’t get offended if someone mistakes me for a German, but I always tell them that I’m Austrian - and usually people react well to this. Austrians are very popular as tourists, but Germans not so much.”

Can this sometimes strained relationship be explained by history? After World War I and the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Austrians, reduced to living in a small state along the Danube, wanted to be incorporated into Germany. And, scarcely 20 years later, the vast majority welcomed the Anschluss, their country’s annexation by the Third Reich.

However, after the Nazis were defeated and their atrocities brought to light, Germans were no longer popular, and Austria tried its best to portray the Republic as Hitler’s first victim (although a small minority still believe in a 'greater Germany'). 

Language spat

There’s a German joke that Austrians want to persuade the world that Hitler was German and Beethoven Austrian.

Austria is preparing to fight off another invasion - of the German language. The country’s education minister has announced a major new drive to preserve the unique Austrian form of German.

There are many words and phrases that make Austrian German different than the ‘High German’ spoken in Berlin or Hannover.  When Austria joined the EU in 1995, it insisted its version of the language be given protected status.

Now, a new government booklet is urging teachers to favour the Austrian word Schlagobers for cream, over the German Sahne; Marille for apricot, instead of Aprikose; and the traditional Austrian greeting Servus for goodbye, instead of the German Tschüss.

However, as Germans now make up one of the largest immigrant communities in Austria, after Turkish people, and the majority of Austria’s foreign tourists are from Germany - it looks like they are condemned to put up with each other and get along as well as they can.

READ MORE from The Local Austria here

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