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I recently started working in a place in Berlin, Germany, and though my German is OK I guess, there's a common term that I don't understand. It's Mahlzeit.

When people leave from work around lunch time, they say that and people around respond with the same. According to dict.cc it means "Enjoy your meal!".

Is this a common German term or is it just a thing in Berlin? What does it mean exactly? And do you have to respond with Mahlzeit or are there other responses one may use?

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    Ich habe in meiner Antwort zu einer Frage über »Grüß Gott« auch einen Absatz über »Mahlzeit« geschrieben, den du interessant finden könntest: german.stackexchange.com/questions/175/… – Hubert Schölnast Apr 2 '15 at 10:41
  • @Huber Schölnast: Yes, your explanation is precise and to the point. --- It's as if English-speaking workers greeted each other with "bon appétit" every day around lunchtime. This is a relatively recent practice. Maybe someone started it as a joke a few decades ago. – user2183 Apr 2 '15 at 12:29
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    See also de.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – knut Apr 2 '15 at 21:27
  • Love this question -- I worked for a year in Austria and had the exact same experience: "Why in the world is everyone saying Mahlzeit to me all of a sudden???" Later after I'd learned more German my coworkers made fun of the confused expression I used to get on my face when we'd all go to lunch. :) – lmjohns3 Sep 20 '15 at 4:46
  • I'd like to add that i even heard it in the context of you enter an office and find somebody eating something (piece of bread/cake ...) and you say "Mahlzeit" no matter what time or occasion it is! – Medi1Saif Dec 8 '15 at 7:16
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It's not restricted to Berlin. Mahlzeit consists of Mahl (=process of eating) and Zeit (=time). So it refers to "the time when you eat" (=mealtime) and is technically not limited to lunchtime.

However, it's widely used as kind of a greeting around lunchtime. So, even if you meet someone outside around lunchtime, you could say Mahlzeit. This is acceptable since you're assuming that they're going to have lunch.

I haven't heard it when leaving the office, though; it's more of a greeting rather than goodbye.

A proper respond is, of course, Mahlzeit; or you say Danke when you are already eating as it then really means "Enjoy your meal".

See also: http://jakubmarian.com/how-to-use-mahlzeit-in-german/

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    Wir nutzen das im Büro täglich als Verabschiedungsformel wenn jemand oder eine Gruppe zum Essen geht. Für die anderen ist das auch ein guter Hinweis, dass derjenige nicht nur kurz auf Toilette geht, sondern seine (lange) Mittagspause antritt. – hiergiltdiestfu Apr 3 '15 at 22:10
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In addition to the other answers:

Sometimes the business etiquette is complicated when we meet a colleague multiple times (See e.g. the section Grüßt man sich erneut, wenn man sich im Flur trifft?). It is a bit strange if you repeat a Guten Morgen or Guten Tag each time you meet somebody on the same day. (The link recommend to nod)

With Mahlzeit you have an adequate greeting if you meet somebody again and you don't want to repeat the greeting you already used in the morning.

During the day you could start with Guten Morgen, followed by a Mahlzeit during lunch time and in the evening you can close with a Schönen Feierabend or Auf Wiedersehen if you or your colleague leaves the work.

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For me its easy, you say "Mahlzeit" mainly at lunchtime in German.

You say it when someone begins his break at work, when you encounter someone at lunch or simply if you believe someone will have lunch break or just had lunch.

When someone says "Mahlzeit" to you and you are going to have lunch or just had lunch just reply "Mahlzeit" back,o otherwise just say "Danke"- "thanks"

In German "Mahlzeit" is used like a question and a greeting together. It says "I'll have lunch now, you too?" or "i wish you a good appetite or lunchtime"

CAUTION: Do not use this in meetings as it is very informal. Use only with friends or acquaintances.

  • I like the warning about this being informal, but I'd also use it with coworkers... "Mahlzeit" always reminds me of Kleines Arschloch. – Robert Apr 2 '15 at 19:16
  • @Robert Especially amongst coworkers. – Em1 Apr 2 '15 at 20:48
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In industrial environments — especially in automobile industry — “Mahlzeit” often simply means “hello”.

Even most Germans who are not working in such companies do not know about this.

When starting a new job in such a company they are a bit confused because they understand: “I wish you a tasteful lunch” instead of: “hello”.

The response to the greeting Mahlzeit differs from company to company.

In companies where Mahlzeit means hello you can simply respond with Mahlzeit, too.

In environments where Mahlzeit means “I wish you a tasteful lunch” you simply respond with “Danke”.

In a company I have worked for the response was sometimes:

Mahl’ deine Zeit selber

(Because “Mahl’ Zeit” would mean “grind time”, so the response is “grind your time yourself”).

However you should never respond this way unless you are absolutely sure that this is the correct way to respond in the company you are working at!

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I assume, that your questions addresses Mahlzeit used on its own, without any additions.

Two additions concerning other uses.

1) It is used as generic term for any of breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Vor den Mahlzeiten einzunehmen (e.g. for medicine: take before instead of after eating)

2) One combination has a non-intuitive meaning:

Prost Mahlzeit!

This does NOT mean "enjoy your meal and drink" but is more like "Anything fouled up".

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Mahlzeit may also have a negative meaning similar to the American oh, forget it. For a good example see this Youtube video (start at 21:11 for context)

  • As it is true that "Mahlzeit" may be used with a negative connotation, and this is an important point to make here, but I believe that the English counterparts you had posted don't catch the meaning too well (it's more along the line of "to be done with sth."). Consider to edit your answer. – Takkat Dec 8 '15 at 7:49
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    While I agree with you that Mahlzeit may also have such a negative connotation, I do not think that the linked video provides a good example for it. In this case, it’s almost only, if not only the context and intonation that matters and the speaker might as well have used some other greeting like Tschüss, Auf Wiedersehen or Grüß Gott. As for an English equivalent, I think the ironic Greeaat fits quite well. – Wrzlprmft Dec 8 '15 at 8:55

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