The Mason-Dixon Line

Having lived in Vienna for a good long while, Austria is normal for me, whereas Germany is a little off. As we traveled south, my cultural comfort level rose palpably. In Heldeiberg I spied a proper Cafe Konditorei (mmmm). In Stuttgart I heard my first Grüß Gott, and by Andechs I heard lots of Grüß Gott.

It was striking to me that Bavaria was presented to us as some sort of German exception, a place where everything is a little bit off. And from a northern German perspective, that's correct. From an Austrian perspective, Bavaria is the last place where it's still normal, whereas Germany north of Bavaria is off.

I felt a sort of cultural relief in Munich. For example, we had stopped in a photo exhibit in the lobby of an office building. I asked the guard sitting at the desk for a cafe recommendation. In no time we're chatting. He gives me one suggestion--the cafe is nice, but doesn't have much of a selection. So he gives me other suggestions. Twice he gets up and walks over to a closet to pull out brochures for me of places I might like. There is a sort of hearty friendliness that comes more easily to the south Germans and Austrians.

While in the south, I had to quickly relearn the German I used to know and have been unlearning in order to navigate Berlin.

North German = South German (translation)

Quark = Topfen (yummy rich dairy product we don't have in the US, roughly a cross between yogurt and cream cheese)

Guten Tag = Grüß Gott (hello)

Tschüs = Servus (goodbye)

Aprikosen = Marillen (apricots)

kucken = schauen (look, peer)

Brötchen = Semmel (roll, bun)

Trödelmarkt = Flohmarkt (flea market)

Tüte = Sackl (bag)

bischen = bisl (a little bit)

In the same vein, I overheard a man sitting near me in a restaurant say "Das gibt es doch nicht," which is what Austrians say every three minutes, but which I have never heard in Berlin. (Loose translation: "That just doesn't happen." As I think about this, this tells you something about the South German and Austrian mentality. They live in a constant state of astonishment.)


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