It’s a simple word, tschüss. It means “goodbye” and is pronounced almost like the English word “juice” except instead of a J at the beginning it’s more like a “ch” sound.
Though simple, this word is highly important to the Germans to the point of offending them if you don’t say it when parting ways. While in America, my husband happily said, “BYE!” to the lady at the self-checkout section of Walmart. She responded by looking at him with a strange expression that said, “HUH?”
Think about it… We Americans typically only say “goodbye” for two reasons; 1. To signal the end of a phone conversation. 2. When leaving the company of friends. We don’t often say “goodbye” to perfect strangers. That would just be silly!
Instead we say, “Thanks!” and walk away from our grocery store cashier or the person at the coffee shop who hands us our drinks. After all, isn’t “thanks” much friendlier than “goodbye”? In America, “thanks” is the cultural nicety people expect. If you don’t say it, the person who has just helped you will probably say quietly and sarcastically after you leave, “You’re welcome!” However, if you merely replaced “Thanks” with “Goodbye” you’d leave them downright confused.
Needless to say, I had a truly difficult time with this word when I first arrived in Germany and my husband was embarrassed by my perceived rude behavior. I wasn’t trying to be rude. I would never do that on purpose, but it honestly made me uncomfortable to say goodbye to people I didn’t even know. I often forgot and would say, “danke!” and walk away which probably left the people quietly and sarcastically saying, “Tschüss!” when I was out of earshot.
It’s amazing the teeny tiny things of which all cultures are comprised. It’s the small things we never think about that just make us who we are. I never imagined words as small as “thanks” and “goodbye” could ever produce such an abundance of conversations.
That being said, if I don’t mentally prepare myself to say “tschüss” as I leave a person, I often forget and then feel rude and rotten afterward. However, yesterday as I was leaving the grocery store, I heard that small word pop out of my mouth without a thought. I actually paused for a brief second as I realized what had just happened.
It might seem insignificant to you, but to me it was a turning point. It was a realization that I really can do this. I can function in a new society. I can eventually learn the language. I can shop without using my husband as a language-crutch. I can! I can! I can!
And when I got in my car and opened the sunroof and rolled down the windows and opted to sweat for another 2 minutes until I could drive fast enough to cool off rather than turning my air-conditioner on full blast, I realized, “I CAN live without air-conditioners!”
It was a day full of “I can” statements and all because of one simple word; tschüss.