It is fair to say I am struggling with my German. It is not the easiest of languages to get to grips with, what with the rules defining du and sie and the dreaded articles – der, die and das. But for the past few weeks it has not been the articles or the du/sie question that has been baffling me. It has been something that until now I thought was relatively simple to comprehend – the greetings. In England, where I am from, greetings are fairly simple. Hello or hi will usually suffice or good morning, afternoon or evening depending on what time of day it is. Here in Germany, it is a different ball game altogether. You see, in some parts of Germany you can’t just get away with saying ‘hallo’ or ‘guten Tag’ – greetings here are regional.
Since arriving in Hamburg one month ago I have been greeted not only by my flatmates, but in shops and cafes with ‘moin’ or more commonly ‘moin moin’. The Djs on the radio are always cheerily greeting their listeners with ‘moin.’ At first, I thought they were just saying ‘Morgen’ (morning) in a peculiar fashion. I thought perhaps my ears were playing tricks on me, but then I realised it was happening at all times of the day, not just in the morning. Well, I finally got to the bottom of this mystery a couple of weeks ago. It turns out that saying ‘moin’ is a quintessentially Hamburg greeting, hence why I had never heard it on my travels to other parts of Germany before. ‘Moin’, however, is not just said in Hamburg, but all over Northern Germany, south Denmark and the eastern part of the Netherlands. The word is Plattdeutsch (lower Saxon) and originates from the Frisian word “mooi” meaning beautiful (sometimes good), or schön in German. ‘Mooi’ featured in the sentence ‘n mooien Dag wünsch ik di’ – ‘einen schoenen Tag wuensche ich dir’ – ‘I wish you a beautiful day’, but has been gradually shortened over time to ‘moin Dag’ and now ‘moin’ or ‘moin moin,’ the latter of which being, I am told, the more polite version.
Greeting a fellow German with ‘moin’ denotes you are a ‘northerner,’ in the same way saying bath and grass with a short ‘a’ in England indicates you are from the north. Should you greet someone from Bavaria with ‘moin’ they would be slightly bemused that you were unable to pronounce the word ‘Morgen.’ It seems, then, I am not the only one that made this mistake. The south Germans, Bavarians included, Austrians and the Swiss, however, have their own way of greeting one another. Guten Tag is considered too formal and so they greet one another with ‘grüß Gott,’ literally meaning ‘greet God.’ To have such a religious sounding greeting indicates the presence and importance of Catholicism in the region. Grüß dich, a shorter way of saying ‘grüß dich Gott,’ is also a popular greeting in the area. Servus, which originates from Latin, is also used as an informal greeting in Bavaria and Austria to mean both hello and goodbye.
With all these regional variations I do sometimes wonder if I will ever get the hang of German!