Knowing that Swiss German is the most widely spoken language in Switzerland, speaking it will be the pathway to making new connections and blending in with the locals. As we know, communication is critical when learning a new language, so what better place to start than with some Swiss greeting words and phrases that you can use to spark a conversation. Here is how to say hello in Swiss German, together with some other helpful greetings to use depending on formality, time of day, or situation.
However, note that Swiss German is not entirely the same as German, since it is rather a German dialect with quite distinctive features. Therefore, many greeting words may sound familiar to previous German speakers, but many others may not. With this misconception cleared up, let’s not waste any more time and get started!
Formal Swiss German Greetings
Using formal greetings is a sign of respect when talking to people you are meeting for the first time, elders, pedestrians on the street, or shopkeepers. Therefore, it is important to pay attention and adjust your greetings according to the situation’s formality. These are the most common ways of greeting people in Swiss German:
Grüezi is the Swiss-German word for hello, used mostly in more formal settings. This greeting is widely and universally used in Switzerland; however, it is used more frequently in Central and Eastern Switzerland. The word is derived from the expression ‘Gott grüez i’ meaning ‘may God greet you.’ If you are greeting two or more people, you can say ‘grüezi mitenand,’ which translates to ‘hello everybody.’
Grüessech also holds the same meaning and level of formality as grüezi, but it is unique to the canton of Bern and Solothurn, where grüezi is not used as often.
Locals in Basel usually use Griezi instead of the other two, so it is a matter of shifts in dialects rather than in meaning. Since Swiss German is a combination of dialects, there are no fixed rules to follow and you may use greetings according to the region you are in.
Hallo means hello in English; it is a standard German greeting, that is used as a formal greeting in Swiss German as well.
This sounds similar to English, doesn’t it? Guete Morge is both a formal and informal greeting you can use to say ‘good morning.’ Its spelling and pronunciation may vary depending on the dialect; for example, some cantons spell it as ‘guetä,’ ‘güetn,’ etc.
This phrase translates as ‘good day,’ so it is a general way to say ‘greetings.’ Guete Daag is more commonly used in Basel, Solothurn, Valais, and Fribourg, while Central and Eastern Switzerland pronounce and write it as ‘guete Tag.’ You can use this greeting on both formal and casual occasions.
Tag Wohl is another formal and informal way of saying ‘greetings’; only it is unique to the canton of Valais. The phrase is usually used until noon.
Guete Namittag is used in Central and Eastern Switzerland to say ‘have a good afternoon.’ However, it is used less frequently, since you can use ‘‘guete Tag’ throughout the whole day instead.
After a day’s work or going back home from an evening out, you use Guete Abig to wish people a good evening, just like the German ‘Guten Abend.’ This dialect and pronunciation are used mostly in Central and Eastern Switzerland.
A simple way to say ‘goodbye,’ Adieu is commonly used in the Swiss German-speaking communities in Switzerland, typically as a formal greeting.
Uf Widerluege is another parting phrase used more frequently when greeting someone in a formal setting. The phrase translates as ‘until we see each other again,’ from the Old High German word ‘luogēn’ meaning ‘to look.’
Informal Swiss German Greetings
Since we keep our social distance for now and cannot kiss on the cheek three times as Swiss etiquette requires when greeting friends, let us use speech and writing only until we can greet the proper Swiss way again. Here are some informal Swiss-German phrases and words to use in informal settings:
Hoi, Salü, Sali
These greeting words are Swiss German for the more casual ‘hi’. Salü is used most often in the Bern region and often used to say ‘bye’ as well, whereas the Swiss use Sali most in Aargau and Zürich.
Another word to say hi to your close ones is Tschau, which they use in Aargau and Zürich. Whereas, the very similar Tschou is used in the regions of Bern and Solothurn. Conveniently, you can also use Tschau to say ‘goodbye’ in informal situations.
Guete Morge, Guete Daag/Tag, Guete Abig
As we have previously mentioned, the phrases for wishing good morning, day, or evening are used both in formal and informal contexts, so you can use these with friends and family as well. To greet two or more people you say Guete Morge Zäme or Guete Morge Mitenand (good morning all).
Wie gaats Dir?
A simple, but very important question in Switzerland is Wie Gaats Dir, which translates to ‘how are you’ or ‘how are you doing’. This is used to start a conversation and shows you care about the person, which typically replies either with ‘Mir gaats guet, danke’ to say they are doing well, or ‘Mir gaats nöd so guet!’ when they are not feeling well. If you are this question in a formal conversation then use the plural ‘Wie gaats Ine?’ instead.
The Impact of French, Italian & Romansh on Swiss German Greetings
Without a doubt, other official languages in Switzerland have influenced and enriched the Swiss-German vocabulary. Many people can understand and speak more than one of the official languages, therefore it is expected that each will make its way into Swiss German over time.
You can notice this impact in bilingual regions in Biel and Bern, for example, where both Swiss German and French are spoken. Here you can hear people saying Sälü, the greeting derived from the French ‘salut’, instead of Grüezi or Hallo.
The Italian greeting ciao, which translates to ‘hello’ or ‘hi’ also finds great use among Swiss German speakers. The Romansh chau sounds quite similar as well, although due to its lower number of speakers, it has not reached as much influence.
Swiss German may seem complicated at first due to the multiple dialects that you will hear. However, keep in mind that most Swiss German speakers will understand each other despite dialect differences. As a foreigner, people will appreciate your effort, so make sure to greet them with a grüezi and keep on practicing!