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Learning the Social Customs of Austria

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In Austria, German is the official language. About 98% of the population know German as their mother tongue. Nevertheless, Austrian German sounds a lot different than German in most parts of Germany, and many regional differences within Austria exist as well.

Austrian homes are known to be kept very neat, as they take great pride in their dwellings. Life outside of the home tends to be quite formal, so the home space is the only area where people can really relax. Only family members and close friends are invited inside people’s homes, as they are quite private. Neighborhoods have a collective courtesy of keeping things tidy, so the streets, steps and sidewalks are kept clean as well.

Families are important to Austrians, as they see them as the basis of their social structures. Families are very tight-knit and small. Many families have been in the same towns or general regions for generations. During the weekend, Austrians are known to set aside most of the time for family activities or even visiting grandparents. Most people have a routine of eating dinner at home every night.

Austrians tend to be formal and conservative, and behave prudently. If there is going to be a social event, they might tell everyone long in advance, rather than acting spontaneously. They also take style and presentation seriously. Clothes should always be neat and conservative, even during non-formal occasions. If there are serious events going on, there may be a strict dress code, and they turn down people who are not well-dressed. Austrian women are used to dressing formally, so will dress up for normal activities like shopping.

Greetings are executed quite formally, with a brief, firm handshake with eye contact. Austrian men might kiss female hands, especially if they are older; this gesture should not be replicated by foreign men. Women could kiss men, but men should not kiss one another. First names are reserved for close friends, so you should use titles and last names until invited to call people by their first names.

In terms of gift giving, it is usually done for Christmas and birthdays. Children also receive presents on December 6th for the feast of St Nicolas. If you are invited to an Austrian home, chocolates are a good present, and they should be nicely wrapped. Flowers are also a nice gesture, but they should be given in an odd number. You should arrive on time to an Austrian home, dress conservatively, and ask if you should remove your shoes.

For dinner, you should wait until you are told where to be seated. You should place your napkin on your lap, and do not begin eating until the hostess says so. You should try to cut most of your food with your fork, to show that it is tender. Try to finish all of your food. When you finish your meal, you should place your knife and fork down on your plate, with handles facing the right.

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