Felicity Rash conducted “research into linguistic politeness in German-speaking Switzerland (GSS) and into one type of politeness in particular, namely the speech acts of greeting and leave-taking denoted by the German verb grüssen” and reported on the results in “Linguistic Politeness and Greeting Rituals in German-speaking Switzerland” (in Linguistik online):

Greeting “properly” in GSS involves more than merely saying grüezi and adieu. Just as with the formal and informal pronouns of address, Sie and du respectively, levels of formality are strictly observed: thus grüezi (grüess-ech in western regions) is generally accompanied by Herr/Frau + family name; salü/sali, hoi, hallo, tschau + first name are informal greetings, and are used more by young people than old. Leave-taking formulae include ade/adieu or uf widerluege for people with whom one is on formal terms, and tschau, tschüss, salü/sali for people with whom one has an informal relationship. Both initial and terminal formulae are often followed by mitenand or zäme (both meaning ‘together’) if two or more people are greeted. A greeting is generally accompanied by a hand-shake or, when close friends greet, kisses on alternate cheeks (usually three). Leave-taking formulae are frequently accompanied by other pleasantries, such as schöne Tag [have a nice day], schöne Namittag [have a nice afternoon], schönen Aabig/Aabe/Obe [have a nice evening], schöne Fiirtig/Fiiraabig [have a good day/evening off], schöns Wochenend [have a good weekend], schöni Fäschttäg [Happy Christmas], schöni Wienachte/Oschtere [Happy Christmas/Easter], e guets neus Jahr/guete Rutsch [Happy New Year]; en Schöne [have a nice one] is considered uncouth by some people. Such good wishes are generally answered with danke/merci gliichfalls [thank you and the same to you]; indeed many of my informants stressed the importance of this particular formula.

All of my adult informants used a selection of the above formulae and most agreed that it is never enough to just say grüezi to a person one knows: one should always mention the interlocutor’s name and it is usually possible to say something topical, even if it is only in recognition of the time of day, as in schöne Namittag. Many informants felt it polite to offer a Gelegenheitsgruss or an Arbeitsgruss if the other person was obviously occupied with a specific task (see section 2.2.xii-xiv below). Otherwise wie gaht’s/goht’s [how are you], with initial greetings, or schlaf guet [sleep well], with leave-taking, make suitable adjuncts to the basic formulae. One informant told me that in the canton of Wallis it is usual to say gueten Aabe/Obe from 1.00 p.m. onwards. In all other regions the evening begins much later, from about 5.00 p.m. or when the working day has ended…

Many people from both urban and rural areas stressed the differences in greeting habits between people from the different environments: many town-dwellers claimed: ‘Auf dem Land grüsst man mehr als in der Stadt’ [People who live in the country greet more than those who live in towns], and village-dwellers said: ‘In der Stadt wird nicht gegrüsst’ [People in towns don’t greet one another]. In fact, the rural/urban difference is chiefly a matter of whether or not one greets strangers: wherever one is it is normal to greet a person one knows, but in rural areas of Switzerland, as in Britain and many other countries, one is more likely to greet strangers if one encounters them on a country walk or in a small village. Hanna Hinnen points out another fundamental feature of greeting conventions in rural areas: inter-family feuds in small villages are more acute than in towns, and they can often continue for years. In her study of the village of Feldis in Graubünden, Hinnen reports on families who have not greeted one another for ten years or more. She tells of one child who would be told at the meal table whom she was allowed to greet and whom she should ignore: ‘Mein Vater sagte jeweils am Tisch, wen man grüssen durfte und wen nicht. Manchmal durfte man dann einen plötzlich nicht mehr grüssen. Das gab so ein Sippengefühl, das durfte nicht gebrochen werden’ [My father would tell us at meal times whom we were allowed to greet and whom not. Sometimes we were suddenly told not to greet a person. There were family bonds that one was not allowed to break]. (Hinnen 2001: 173).

Comparisons were made with other countries. America is seen as a land where people ask after a person’s wellbeing without necessarily being interested in the answer: in Switzerland, apparently, people really want to know the answer when they ask: ‘Wie geht es Dir?’ [How are you?]. Italians were recognized by two informants as more open and genuine than the Swiss. Finally, as one nun remarked, God is disappearing from greeting formulae in Switzerland but not in Germany: ‘In Deutschland sagt man noch Grüss Gott’ [in Germany they still say Grüss Gott]…

Interesting stuff. (Via Transblawg.)


  1. Italians were recognized by two informants as more open and genuine than the Swiss.
    It’s my experience that the emotional life and communication style of Italians is idealized in many quarters, as here. Do the Italians see themselves as more open and genuine than other countries? Are there hard numbers available about mental health in Italy?
    Not to sidetrack the comments.
    How about an adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” set in rural Switzerland, in which the Montagues and Capulets, rather than duelling in the streets, simply refuse to greet one another? There, that’s got us back on track …

  2. In my experience, “Grüss Gott!” is far more standard in Austria than it is in Germany. I don’t recall hearing it once in Berlin, or Koeln or Muenster.
    I hear it’s still the done thing in Bayern, yes, but the land of Mozart is another matter. One walks into a shop in Wien, and heavens help us if anyone decides to be droll and say “Gutentag”! It simply doesn’t happen. They just merrily greet God all day long.

  3. Yes, I well remember “Grüss Gott!” from my visit to Vienna. But I suspect the Swiss informants were thinking of the bits of Germany adjacent to Switzerland rather than far-off Berlin. And (to address pierre’s point) the issue here is Swiss preconceptions/prejudices about Italian behavior, not actual Italian behavior (which would doubtless take armies of sociologists and statisticians to determine).

  4. Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene 1:
    GREGORY: The quarrel is between our masters and us their men. … Draw thy tool! here comes two of the house of the Montagues.
    SAMPSON: My naked weapon is out: quarrel, I will back thee.

    GREGORY: I will frown as I pass by, and let them take it as they list.

  5. Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, Scene 1:
    BENVOLIO: By my head, here come the Capulets.
    MERCUTIO: By my heel, I care not.
    Enter TYBALT and others
    TYBALT: Follow me close, for I will speak to them. Gentlemen, good den: a word with one of you.

  6. Romeo and Juliet, Act 5, Scene 3:
    JULIET: Yea, noise? then I’ll be brief. O happy combination dagger, screwdriver, nail file, corkscrew and a tool for removing stones from horse’s hooves!
    Snatching ROMEO’s combination dagger, screwdriver, nail file, corkscrew and a tool for removing stones from horse’s hooves
    JULIET: This is thy sheath;
    Stabs herself
    JULIET: there rust, and let me die.
    Falls on ROMEO’s body, and dies
    Enter Watch, with the Page of PARIS

    CAPULET: O heavens! O wife, look how our daughter bleeds! This combination dagger, screwdriver, nail file, corkscrew and a tool for removing stones from horse’s hooves hath mista’en — for, lo, his house is empty on the back of Montague, — And it mis-sheathed in my daughter’s bosom!

  7. Otto A. Schell says

    “Grüss Gott!” vs “Guten Tag” in Austria
    During the days of the austro-fascist regime in 1934-1938, if not earlier: “Grüss Gott!” was said from Christian-social people whereas social democats and later the Nazis said this “Guten Tag”.
    BTW “gruetzi (mitnand)” is heard in todays Vienna too…
    mfg oas

  8. Thank you, that’s extremely interesting.

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