German Customs 101: Mahlzeit!

One of the more amusing customs I’ve seen since I moved to Germany is the usage of the word Mahlzeit.  Loosely translated, the word means “meal time,” but it’s used in a few different ways. Some people use it as a greeting even away from food, but I haven’t seen that as much.

The most common usage, and the one that I see every day, is that when someone goes to eat lunch, most people who see them say ‘malhzeit.’   This seems to happen any time in the afternoon, and I’ve seen references that say that any meal after about 11am but before late afternoon qualifies. Once you get to early evening, it shifts to guten abend.

The first time I ran across this, I was mildly incredulous.  When you leave the office to get some food, it’s not uncommon for everyone in the room to say mahlzeit to me.  The person leaving is supposed to say mahlzeit as well. When someone else is leaving, everyone says mahlzeit to them.  When you’re already sitting and eating, people who wander into the kitchen to get coffee also reflexively say mahlzeit.  I’ve had days where four or five people have walked by and said mahlzeit in a row-  the desire for privacy is actually a pretty good incentive to leave the office for lunch.

Some, just to be contrary, say ‘guten appetit.’  I always want to say “marsite,’ which sounds similar enough that most people wouldn’t notice, but references pool decking instead.