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German words expats should know: Servus

German words expats should know: Servus

It is highly likely that "Hallo" is the first word you ever learnt in German class - and it certainly is a reliable greeting: uninspired, unemotional and almost universally understandable. But since first impressions are so important, perhaps it's time to add some sparkle to your mental library of German greetings. Say hello to "Servus"

Servus meaning

Servus is a greeting which can be used interchangeably as hello and goodbye.

What does Servus mean in German?

When you enter a shop, the shopkeeper may say “Servus!'' as you walk through the door. When you leave, you can say “Servus” right back at them. Servus is more likely to be used as a greeting in informal settings with friends and is pronounced as it is written.

Bavarian meaning

From Kiel to Konstanz you can be sure that Germans will understand you when greeted with “Servus”, but the address is predominantly used by people in Bavaria, as well as in other parts of Austria and across Europe. The Bavarian greeting is used by pensioners and teenagers alike, and just like “Grüß Gott”, meaning hello and literally “greetings to God”, is a nod to the still prevalent role of Catholicism in the federal state.

If you’re feeling particularly pious you can go the whole hog with “Servus Christi” (servant of Christ), which will demonstrate your historical knowledge but might come off a little strong.

What does Servus mean in Latin?

So what does Servus actually mean? As you may have suspected based on its spelling, Servus is not originally a German word, but comes from Latin. Servus literally means “slave” or “servant” and its usage as a greeting dates back to feudalism. Back when you were tilling the land during serfdom, your landlord may have passed by with an oppressively upbeat “Hey guys!” to which you would have answered, “Servus” or literally, “I am your servant”.

Say Servus! to this German greeting 

So, now you know the meaning of Servus in German! Just one of the many regional greetings which are dispersed across your adopted home country. From Sunday service to the nightclub dark room a smile and a “Servus” will be sure to make you some new German friends.

Thumb image credit: P Gregory / Shutterstock.com

Olivia Logan

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Olivia Logan

Editor for Germany at IamExpat Media. Olivia first came to Germany in 2013 to work as an Au Pair. Since studying English Literature and German in Scotland, Freiburg and Berlin...

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