Austrian Culture

Communication

Verbal

  • 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 .
  • Direct Communication: When communicating, Austrians are often . People tend to speak honestly, clearly and explicitly to arrive straight to the point. Austrians are especially in written communication. Despite their directness, Austrians will usually avoid asking personal questions until they have developed a relationship with their counterpart. Indeed, they may be reluctant to express controversial opinions openly until rapport has been built. 
  • Attention: Austrians are typically modest and reserved. As such, they tend to avoid drawing attention to themselves through a loud voice, inappropriate dress or excessive compliments. Losing one’s temper in public is highly frowned upon and seen as uncouth.
  • Formality: In general, adults will address each other in the formal ‘you’ (‘Sie’) until one (typically the older or higher-ranking person) offers the other the use of the informal ‘you’ (‘du’). Using ‘du’ indiscriminately is considered to be impolite until told otherwise. However, social regarding the use of ‘du’ have changed somewhat in recent years to be less rigid, particularly among younger Austrians.
  • Humour: The word ‘Schmäh’ is a colloquial expression that describes Austrian (especially Viennese) humour. The Austrian sense of humour is usually subtle, and often contains cynicism and dark humour. Irony and wit are preferred over puns or crude humour. At times, it can be difficult to detect the use of humour, as it is not always accompanied by a change in expression or laughter and smiles. When speaking in English, it is easier for Austrians to understand humour from the English-speaking West than vice versa, largely due to the punchline of jokes being lost in translation from German to English. This can sometimes give the impression that Austrian humour is dry, despite not being the case.


Non-Verbal

  • Physical Contact: When it comes to physical contact, Austrians are reserved yet affectionate. 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. However, 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.
  • Personal Space: Austrians typically keep an arm's length distance between one another when conversing. Unless one has an intimate conversation, any closer than an arm's length may be interpreted as an infringement of one's personal space.
  • Eye Contact: Maintaining eye contact during conversations is very important to Austrians. It is considered polite and a sign of respect to maintain eye contact. However, between people in a hierarchical relationship, it is considered respectful to lower one's gaze now and then. Moreover, staring is not seen as appropriate eye contact. When talking to a group, be sure to make equal eye contact with everyone present.
  • Gestures: 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.

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