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Schmäh: A Lesson in Austrian humour

From the polished society of the ball room to the jovial crowd at the alpine hut, Austrians are proud of their Schmäh; a word of many meanings.

Mountain Hut Fun © Ötztal Tourismus
The word Schmäh (pronounced 'shmay') has many meanings: it can denote a joke, a trick or a lie, but also regional or personal charm, sense of humour and wit.

It is a good-natured yet snide kind of banter with a subversive historical background. Schmäh has its roots below stairs, originating from servants' mockery of the high-strung, pseudo-courtly lifestyle of their burgeois masters. Part melancholy, part comedy, it often mixes gallantry with persiflage, flattery with ridicule.

Every region and every individual in Austria has a unique type of Schmäh. It is sometimes mistaken for moodiness or impertinence, but it has always been a friendly, ironic sort of naughtiness, with very simple rules of engagement. Roll with the punches and enjoy a harmless - if slightly anarchic - battle of the wits.