What is the difference between "Tschüss" and "Servus"? When do we use each?
The main and most important difference is the region where these salutations are used. »Tschüss« is mainly used in northern regions, »servus« in southern regions (Bavaria and Austria).
Beside this there are also other differences:
»Tschüss« is only used as a good-bye. You use it only when you leave. You don't say »tschüss« when you meet. But »servus« can be used when you meet and when you leave.
German has two honorable forms to address other people:
- »Du« for children, members of your family and friends.
- »Sie« for strangers, officers, senior figures etc.
»Servus« is only used when you are »per Du«. There even have been cases when people had to pay penalties when they said »servus« to police officers. (This is extremely rare, but it did happen.)
»Tschüss« on the other hand seems also to be used among people who are »per Sie«. I do not live in a region where people say »tschüss« (I live in Austria), but when I visited northern regions of Germany, I noticed this usage, and to me it felt very strange to be greeted with this salutation from strangers (shop assistants, bus drivers etc.).
The word »servus« is a old latin loanword. It means servant. When you use it as salutation it is used in the meaning »let me be your servant«. There is also an outdated German salutation »Stets zu Diensten« (always at your service) and in old Viennese cafés you still sometimes can hear the salutation »g'schamster Diener«. This is Viennese dialect, in Standard German it would be »verschämtester Diener« (most bashful servant).
The word tschüss was created in the early 20th century in northern regions of Germany from »atschüs«. »Atschüs« was imported from the Wallon language in the 17th century. Wallon »adjuus« means the same as french »adieu«: »with god«. It is used in the sense of »may god be with you«.