Greetings in German
To go beyond ‘hallo’, ‘guten Tag, guten Morgen guten Abend’ and so on, it is interesting to know what the way some German speakers will greet you can reveal. Here are some ways that German speakers greet each other in a more informal context and what they tell you about the people using them. You can then use them yourself to ‘declare’ things in an implicit way!
Moin is the way people from the North of Germany, famously Hamburg but also elsewhere in Northern Germany greet each other during the day, usually in the morning. You can, if you want, even emphasize it by saying it twice – ‘moin, moin!’- but this will probably give you away as a foreigner. Germans get to the point. One ‘moin’ is usually enough. Say this when in Bavaria or Austria and you are effectively saying that you are from Northern Germany, you live there, or you have learned German there. Or you can just use moin because it’s fun.
Go on, try it!
Servus is the ‘moin of the South’. It is a common, polite way of greeting people in the South of Germany and Austria, and the way you will often be greeted if you walk into a shop. Originally a whole sentence in latin that has been boiled down to a single word that loosely means ‘at your service’, its modern usage has lost this servile connotation and is now simply a greeting among young and old alike.
Grüß Gott is a more formal and old fashioned cousin of Servus. To people in Northern Germany, it translates to ‘greet god’, and threatening as that may sound to some, it is actually an extremely polite greeting that is common among older people, particularly in more rural areas of Austria and German speaking Switzerland. This is because it originally was ‘Grüß dich Gott’, which in the Catholic South meant something along the lines of ‘God bless you’ (grüßen used to also mean bless).
If you’re ever hiking in the Alps and you come across some older locals, Grüß Gott is a safe thing to say!
Literally ‘greet you’, this is a fairly universal, informal way of greeting people who are either on friendly terms with you, but usually not quite your friends or at least not close friends, and who are open to being your friends. It is also common among middle aged people and might be experiencing a slow faze out so it is not as common as it once was.
Use it to surprise your German friends!
Finally, the king (or queen) of greetings among young people is the word ‘Na’. ‘Na’ doesn’t actually mean anything but it is simply a way of saying hello. If the person “naing” you is in a good mood or maybe a close friend you haven’t seen in a while, they might extend ‘a’ sound a bit. If you would like to say that something is not quite right, you might reply to a ‘na’ with a rueful ‘naja…’ before going on to explain what’s wrong. The person initiating the “naing” usually makes a longer “na” as well. Think of it as being similar to ‘’sup?’ or, if you’re British, “alright?”.
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