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Jagdhausalmen Alpine Pastures, Defereggen, East Tirol, Austria, Europe

True or Not? The Truth about Tiroleans and dissolving Fallacies

Updated on 15.05.2023 in Arts & Culture

tiroler, © Tirol Werbung, Neusser Peter © Tirol Werbung, Neusser Peter

Like every country, Tirol is associated with stereotypes. None of us living in the ‘Land in the Mountains’ are immune to stereotyping. To some, these stereotypes may provoke anger. To most of us, they are harmless jokes based on the identity that the Tirolean people have established towards other countries through the years. Which, in our case, results in a good deal of sympathy.

However, is there a sliver of truth in these stereotypes? Or are they just inaccurate preconceived notions? Here are some of the most common Tirolean stereotypes and what I think of them…

Brusque and pig-headed mountain people.

Don’t generalize. It’s so rude to so many people in Tirol who aren’t like that. The personalities of Tiroleans are as different as the mountains and the sea. Sure, we may appear a bit gruff, but that’s because of our language. We speak too fast and we sound funny—and gruff.
Pig-headed? Well, yes, maybe. Sometimes it makes sense to be unwilling to compromise, though. Otherwise, I guess, we would not have been able to hold on to centuries-old customs and traditions.

Distrustful and not very outgoing.

This is true for some parts as there are regional variations. The people living in Tirol’s Oberland Region, the Upper Inntal Valley west of Melach River in Kematen, are said to be fairly reserved. However, they are still very welcoming and friendly people. If you befriend with them, be sure you have found friends who understand this meaning from the heart. Moreover, those guys are honest and you can trust them.

Shallow and false.

That’s what they say about those living in Unterland Region, the Lower Inntal Valley east of Melach River in Kematen on the other hand (apart from Tirol’s capital Innsbruck). They are usually very social and good at making friends, which makes them seem shallow and false. I’d say enjoy, and don’t take it too serious!! Stereotypes can be playful, and we take it in good humour. Maybe you already have heard one or more of these stereotypes-turned-jokes: “A funeral in Unterland Region is more fun than a wedding in Oberland”; or “Rather than getting an Oberland guy to kiss you, chances are that you’ll get pregnant from an Unterland guy”. Well, the latter of which should be taken serious, after all.

Are born on skis but can’t play football.

ski-kind, © Tirol Werbung, Wiedenhofer Martina © Tirol Werbung, Wiedenhofer Martina

Weird, but true: There are many of us who don’t ski, either because they never learned it or they just don’t like it. Anyhow, we don’t shout this from the rooftops. Note: I belong to both of these groups. But no one ever believes me when I try to tell them that I don’t ski. Maybe I should stop dancing in ski boots at lively après ski bars…
Football? Well, hope never dies. We’re not going to give up, are we?

All make a living from tourism.

Tourism is one of the largest industries in Tirol. Which doesn’t mean we are all like those Tirolean hosts that have storied contempt for their northern neighbours, the Germans, as it was depicted in a popular Austrian TV series from the 1980s, named the “Die Piefke-Saga” (“Piefke” being an unpleasant nickname for Germans). Generally speaking, we are inviting and welcoming people. Generally speaking, we are not cosying up to foreign visitors, we are not overfriendly and we are not convincing tourists to come eat at our place. There may be some who do so but they exist everywhere in the world where there is tourism.

From my personal experience, I can say I haven’t met many of them in Tirol. For instance, I have never met a Tirolean innkeeper who dragged me inside his restaurant to taste today’s special. In fact, that happened to me years ago in Rimini, Italy, where an Italian guy standing at the entrance tried to convince me to come eat at his place…. or maybe it wasn’t his place? It could as well be. Oops.

It’s all heavily accented “kkk” and “scht”.

With German being a pluricentric language, German dialects in Austria should not be confused with the variety of standard German spoken by most Austrians, which is distinct from that of Switzerland or Germany. There are many local dialects spoken in the different areas and valleys of Tirol and they are clearly distinguishable from one another. People living in Tirol’s capital Innsbruck have their own variety of language and accent, which is considered “posh” by the people living in the rest of the country.

The most common dialect in the Tirolean Oberland Region is Southern Austro-Bavarian, an Alemannian accent becoming increasingly noticeable the further west of Kematen one travels. This tongue-twisting way of speaking German, it’s all heavily accented “KKK” and “scht”, leaves you scratching your head at every sentence and sounds very gruff. Tiroleans love to test Non-Tiroleans talking like they do. “Oachkatzlschwoaf”, the Tirolean slang word for the tail of a squirrel, is often used to proof if someone was Tirolean because Non-Tiroleans can’t pronounce it. Those who can say this tongue-twisting word nevertheless, will receive the highest achievable recognition. :)

Fast on casual first-name terms with anyone.

Tiroleans are by nature quite fast on casual first-name terms with anyone. They are as well fast on offering schnapps to anyone. Local craft distillers produce flavours you’ll only find here in Tirol, so, if asked friendly you are strongly recommended to seize the opportunity to savour the fruit of their work. Schnapps has the power to bring people together! No matter if distrustful or outgoing, everyone is greeted in a friendly manner in the street or up on the mountain. Not in town, of course (there are simply too many people). Popular greetings are “Griaß di” or “Griaß enKKK” meaning ‘Good Day’. “Servus” and “Heil” are other common casual greetings in Tirol. This has absolutely nothing to do with the Nazi salute! “Heil” translates to unhurt, unharmed, safe and sound, and thus means wishing someone all the best.

Wearing dirndl and lederhosen all the time.

Tracht, © Tirol Werbung, Grössinger Michael © Tirol Werbung, Grössinger Michael

Most commonly, Tiroleans are portrayed wearing Tirolean hats and lederhosen and their women having dirndls. However, it is of course false that we wear them all the time. Although it has its advantages—summer style dirndl dresses are light and revealing (in contrast to traditional winter style dirndl that has heavy, warm skirts and aprons made of thick linen, velvet or wool). The dirndl looks good on every woman, whether they’re tall, small, young, old, fat or thin—just as its counterpart, the durable leather breeches, lederhosen, does on men. Tourists can discover those traditional clothes in beer fests during summer or on special occasions, like parish fairs and processions. The dirndl and lederhosen may as well often be seen on women and men working in tourism-related businesses, and on waitresses and waiters in traditional-style restaurants or beer gardens. This is not always completely voluntary.

Yodelling and slap dancing the whole day.

This is not true, although we really like to get frisky. Yodelling is a form of singing which involves repeated and rapid changes of pitch between the low-pitch chest register (or “chest voice”) and the high-pitch head register or falsetto. Alpine yodelling and slap dancing was a long-time rural tradition in Tirol. Today, you can sometimes hear and see it at beer fests during summer. But that doesn’t mean that anyone in Tirol knows how to do it. Especially slap dancing is pretty tricky and difficult. Usually you can see professional performers on stage at folk fests. Above all in the Zillertal Valley as they are some of the most music loving people you will ever be able to see—and hear.

Don’t like the Austrian capital Vienna.

A Tirolean is above all a Tirolean, and not necessarily an Austrian. However, Tiroleans are always warmly welcomed to Vienna. It seems that the Viennese really like the Tiroleans. And that, on the other hand, flatters our vanity.

Are all driving 4WD cars.

Off-road adventures await in Tirol.
, © Tirol Werbung, Soulas OliverOff-road adventures await in Tirol. © Tirol Werbung, Soulas Oliver

That’s not true at all. I drive a front wheel drive Suzuki Swift and find that it serves me very well in almost all conditions, as well on mountain dirt roads that are open to vehicle traffic. I once explained that to a flatlander who was then driven by ambition in his new Golf GTI. He was sweating like a bull on the first bump of the road—as if there were 30 degrees Celsius (which is not often the case in Tirol). He and his car arrived safely nevertheless. I knew it!
However, driving a 4WD vehicle is useful for the occasional off-road outing or for driving on snow and ice. But for most of us a front wheel drive car works just as well in nearly all conditions.

By the way, we are not all living on the mountain and not all of our homes are situated on steep grades. And no, we don’t need crampons to get home safely. Have you ever been to Tirol’s Inntal Valley? This is a flat river valley and most Tiroleans either live to the left or right bank of the river—and not on top of the mountain.

Love to have a fight.

That’s true in parts. And more true in the past than today. There still may be some guys, preferably younger ones, who are always picking a quarrel, preferably at beer fests during summer. But the dispute is usually soon over and the opponents sit down and smoke the pipe – or cigarette – of peace together. Although nowadays, with the ban on smoking in public places, which does include marquees, they rather sit down and drink the beer – or schnapps – of peace together.

They always know where they are.

That’s true. But only if we are in Tirol. The secret that lies behind this success (please don’t tell anybody): The mountains are our signposts. Without them, in flat country, we are lost…

hochpustertal, © Tirol Werbung, Schels Sebastian © Tirol Werbung, Schels Sebastian

Summing up: 

It’s like everywhere else. There are two kinds of people in this country. All in all, I can say that we are really nice people. And I don’t say that because I am a Tirolean myself. :)

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© Tirol Werbung - Bernhard Aichner

With a passion for detail and a twinkle in her eye, Christina Schwemberger takes you on a journey to meet amazing people, visit interesting places and experience all that Tirol has to offer.

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