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I am currently in Heidelberg, Germany. I find often that when I say tschüss, someone will reply with ciao (or: tschau) and vice-versa. This has struck me as odd because when I say tschüss, I usually expect to hear tschüss back and the same with ciao (or: tschau).

Sometimes it seems as if there is a formality factor in this. In more formal situations it seems that I don't hear ciao (or: tschau) as much as I do tschüss.

Questions:

  1. Is the mixing due to any particular reason? Or is it just random, like it can be in English? (For example: A: cya .... B: bye!)
  2. Is one of the two considered to be a bit more formal than the other? If not, does one age group tend to use one more than the other? (For example: older age group uses tschüss more)

I pose these questions because I don't want to get into any awkward social situations.


N.B.: I have edited the post to include the German spelling of ciao (or: tschau), yet regardless of this, the question does not pertain to the Italian use or pronunciation of the word, only the German.

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According to my girlfriend, who is German, the spelling is actually Tschau. It's pretty common to hear it. –  Andrew Jul 15 at 12:18
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Duden allows both variants. Personally I don't think "tschau" is a good representation of how it's pronounced. After all, Cello, Vase, Chat and Chance have survived, too. –  Grantwalzer Jul 15 at 15:08
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@RomanReiner I agree with you disagreeing. In the Italian "ciao", the "ci" is softer, the "a" can be stretched and the "o" is purer. In "tschau" the "tsch" is too hard and the "u" is too strong. Given this dilemma of mine, I prefer to choose the original spelling (as it is done for almost all loanwords). Or is your Püdschama kuhl? –  Grantwalzer Jul 15 at 21:39
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Kaum ein Deutscher lernt je Italienisch, und so gibt es keine große Sensibilität für die Feinheiten der Aussprache. Der Deutsche spricht Pardon auch aus wie Pardong, schreibt es aber dennoch Pardon. So oder so steht die Schreibweise aber gar nicht zur Diskussiong. –  user unknown Jul 15 at 21:55

6 Answers 6

up vote 9 down vote accepted

There are some parameters like formality, or how well you know each other, but within these, it's really just random. In this case, formality is referring to "Auf Wiedersehen" vs. "Tüdelüü".

Both are informal to the same extent. Tschüss is genuinely German, whereas the other was adopted from Italian.

I've often heard older people say "tschüss", can't say that for "ciao". But that's only where I live(d) of course.

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It's really totally random, the difference is probably more a generational thing. @Patrick, just use the one you are more comfortable with. –  SAnderka Jul 15 at 10:47
    
I agree - I don't perceive any difference in formality between the two options. –  Hulk Jul 15 at 11:23
    
One can, however, influence its formality by changing the way of saying it. –  Grantwalzer Jul 15 at 11:39
    
Thanks everyone, for the input and information. I will most likely avoid saying ciao to my 68 year old literature professor (with whom we always use Sie, however, tschuss is fine). –  Patrick Sebastien Jul 16 at 10:39
    
"tschüss" derives (probably) from Spanish adios, via Dutch. So you cannot really say that it is "genuinely German". –  fdb Jul 19 at 18:26

There is no "rule" that defines how to answer when being greeted. Actually, it's a matter of personal taste and the situation. I actually never say "Ciao" (or the German "Tschau") myself, but I often use "Tschüss". That's why I'd always answer "Tschüss", no matter whether the other person said "Tschüss" or "Tschau". One exception is when being greeted very formally - I'd never answer "Auf Wiedersehen" with "Tschüss" - maybe just "Wiedersehen", but mostly also "Auf Wiedersehen".

As to formality: "Tschüss" and "Tschau" are both informal. Personally (whithout any reference for proof) I'd say that "Tschau" would be considered a level less formal than "Tschüss".

That being said: You can also change the level of formality using different expressions. For example, if someone calls you on the phone and says "Guten Tag, mein Name ist..." and you answered "Hallo" you'd indicate that it would be ok for you to have a less formal conversation. If you answer with a careful "Guten Tag" you indicate a certain distance to the caller. It also works the other way: If someone calls you and starts "Servus, hier is der Franz!", a "Guten Tag" can tell the caller to go to a more formal level.

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Personal preferences and local habits influence which variant of tschüs is chosen:

  • tschüß – long /ü/
  • tschüss – short /ü/
  • tschü
  • tschö, tschö wa
  • tschau, ciao
  • tschüßi, tschüssi
  • tschühüß
  • tschüßikowski
  • tüdelü
  • tschautschau, ciao ciao
  • atschüs
  • adieu, adjö
  • ade

It may happen, as you seem to have experienced, that out of two common options, people choose the other one in a reply, but that is neither very common in my experience nor a conscious act.

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I don't assume this is due to different meanings. While I can't prove it, I guess, that this might be a consequence of school drill starting in primary school to avoid word repetitions (and in your example: less sounding like an echo or a parrot). In the printed media this is especially prominent, where an article concerning Berlin will surely switch to "Hauptstadt" at the next occurrence. Despite some experts (cf. works by Wolf Schneider, such as "Deutsch für Profis") recommend to keep the same word throughout the text, since it is easier to understand (even more so for foreigners, which may not know that "Frankfurt" is the same as "Mainmetropole") this habit - exhibiting some highbrow attitude - seems to stay.

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Completely agree. –  Grantwalzer Jul 16 at 8:03

It is not random. I say "ciao" only in an italian restaurant or to younger people with non-german roots. In every day (northern) german life I say "Tschüss". I am german btw.

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In every day (southern) German life, people say both to me. –  Patrick Sebastien Jul 28 at 9:09

The answer is way simpler: "Tschüss" is rather uncommon in Southern Germany.

I believe your observation was coincidental: Whenever you said "tschüss" and back came a ciao, you were talking to a Southern German. In the opposite case, you were talking to a Northern German, while you were trying to speak like a Southern German.

Generally: "Tschüss" is rarer in Southern Germany and in particular in Bavaria.

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