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I am working as an intern in a company in Germany. I noticed that as the lunch break starts, everyone says something to each other before going to the canteen, which sounds something like "Macht Zeit" or "Mal Zeit".

I would really like to know what exactly it is, and what it means.

And what should I reply if anyone says it to me?

16

Other things that have already been said on the topic in mind, here is one thing that should be added: The

Mahlzeit

greeting formula is historically an abbreviated form of actually

Gesegnete Mahlzeit!

(something like: may your meal be blessed), which was popular when Christian religious culture was more commonly accepted and practiced. However, as everyday formulas of politeness and conduct often get abbreviated, see also

Morgen!

for "Guten Morgen", or

Abend!

for "Guten Abend", or even

Naaahmt!

for the same thing (from "einen guten Abend!"), also the "Gesegnte Mahlzeit" lost its blessing, remaining just the prosaic "Feeding time!" exclamation.

In my personal view it is an obnoxiuos habit, but then, I have never been uncritical part of that specific German workplace culture (as I would call it rather than "work culture"), as I have mostly avoided positions in large organisations of production or administration so far where these formalisms tend to prevail.

The obnoxiousness of it lies in that it is used so pervasively even at times when no lunch is yet in sight, and when lunch is already over, and in that virtually nobody seems to have the slightest awareness that it is actually "Gesegnete Mahlzeit" - which, per se, would be a nice and decent thing to say when sitting with others at the table.

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    Perhaps you can more explicitly clarify when this is said? I've only ever heard it immediately before starting to eat, no different from guten Apetit in German, eet smakelijk in Dutch, or bon appetit in French, and that the difference between guten Apetit is purely one of class or region. Does it have both meanings, one obnoxious and one normal? – gerrit Dec 13 '17 at 14:16
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    @gerrit - As the original question shortly mentioned, you will hear the Mahlzeit salutation in the corridors of large organisations such as industry or administration, especially however in such where typically a lunch break is part of the daily schedule (so, in a hospital it would be unusual, or only in the administrative floors). There you will hear it typically from 11 a.m. (but it may occur earlier), and, I suppose, as late as 14:30. - This is at least my impression. Others may have more concrete experience from inside some organisation. – Christian Geiselmann Dec 13 '17 at 16:14
  • @gerrit - In my short period of working , I have noticed that this term is used by people as soon as its time for their lunch breaks and is addressed to those who go to the canteen together or have lunch together. Another instance is if you are standing in the kitchen are of your office and using the oven, even then people passing by tend to use this term. – Verma Dec 13 '17 at 16:23
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    @ChristianGeiselmann The best use of course is by people you meet at the loo roughly around noon. – sgf Dec 13 '17 at 20:00
9

There is a wonderful article about german work culture here which answers that question.

Basic summary from the article: "In Germany, the word Mahlzeit (Mall-zayt; a composite of the German words for ‘meal’ and ‘time’) is a standard, yet baffling workplace greeting." "You can’t necessarily anticipate that tomorrow Mahlzeit will be used as a greeting because Mahlzeit has many connotations. Mahlzeit can be ironic, can reveal hierarchy, be funny, or serious."

I really suggest reading the article though. It explains it very well.

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    The obnoxiuos "Mahlzeit" habit is one of the things that made me emigrate from Germany. – Christian Geiselmann Dec 13 '17 at 11:10
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    Please, do NOT adopt this word. It makes no sense. You could say something completely different, e.g. "Schranktür" - it would make no difference. When you meet somebody on the way to the canteen, say "Hello", "Hallo" or "Guten Tag". When you sit down at the table, say "Guten Appetit" or something similar. But please - do not say "Mahlzeit"! – IQV Dec 13 '17 at 11:20
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    There are some things annoyingly wrong with that article. Translating "Feierabend" as "party evening" for example – PiedPiper Dec 13 '17 at 12:33
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    That article gets many things completely wrong. It has some insights, but most of it is completely garbage. It doesn't seem the author has understood german work culture at all (and neither the words feierabend, feierabendbier and Mahlzeit). An "Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung" is not just a word, its a form that your doctor fills out to prove that you can not work. You can not simply get it "no questions asked", your doctor has to agree that you are indeed ill. – Polygnome Dec 13 '17 at 13:05
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    Etymologically, the "Feier-" in "Feierabend" comes from the latin feria, which means "Any occasion of rest, peace, or leisure." (at least in the sense its used in that word). It doesn't have to do with partying. in fact, most people do not party in their "Feierabend", but use it to get some quiet time and relax. – Polygnome Dec 13 '17 at 13:08
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In our office, a "Mahlzeit" pronounced with a slight interrogative intonation is used as an invitation to go to the canteen together. A usual response is the same word (but pronounced affirmatively) if you wish to join, or a politely phrased excuse if you don't plan to.

Another (a rather informal and cheeky) use of "Mahlzeit" is to greet someone who arrives late in the morning. This suggests that they came to work mainly to take their lunch, and should not be used on people you don't know sufficiently well or on people who are easily offended.

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    I guess its the first one in my office. Because everyone goes to the canteen together and hence they say Mahlzeit to potray that they are waiting for the person. – Verma Dec 13 '17 at 13:02
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    Ah yes, the difference between "Mahlzeit?", "Mahlzeit!" and "Mahlzeit :P". Intonation plays an important role. – Polygnome Dec 13 '17 at 13:37
  • In places where I worked people used rather "Essen?* (plus intonation as a question, and plus an interrogative stare) for finding out who would join the canteen flock. – Christian Geiselmann Dec 13 '17 at 16:17
  • Wir nutzen ganze Sätze: "Kommst du mit zum Essen?"... ;-) – IQV Dec 14 '17 at 6:47

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