Frances Mayes, American novelist
The perfect accompaniment to any meal, be it a starter, main or dessert. It can be paired with a humble slice of bread, or used to make a cake or pastry that little bit more delicious. Watch out though, it shouldn’t be served with wine or beer! No, we’re not talking about lashings of butter or your favourite condiment, but the expression Bon Appétit – and its European equivalents – which can be heard around dinner tables all over the continent as people sit down to tuck into their dinners. It’s all about European cuisine… but in its great diversity! Mahlzeit! wishes you the German, Hyvää ruokahalua! replies the Finn, Dobrou chuť! says the Czechs and Bon Appétit! answers the French.
It is perhaps trivial to say so, but Portugueses are the pround heirs of a rich gastronomy. So do the French! It comes then as no surprise that Portugueses just reproduced the French expression bon appétit to make their own. Did you know that the word apetite comes from the Latin word appeto wich means to ‘desire eagerly’ or to ‘strive for’? Don’t be shy then to wish Bom apetite! to your Portuguese friends.
¡Que aproveche! is mostly used in Spain in informal situations when sitting at the table with friends or relatives just before the meal gets started. In more formal contexts, such as in restaurants, business meals, etc., it’s much more suitable to say ¡Buen provecho!. The verb “Aproveche” comes from aprovechar which means ‘taking advantage’ or ‘make the most of something’. And when it comes to eating, you can trust our Spanish friends to, indeed, make the most of it!
France – Belgium
Bon Appétit! – Bon Ap’!
How great! You thought you sounded polite or even posh when you wished bon appétit – or its shortest version Bon ap’- to your guests last time? In fact, it was nothing of that sort! Bon appétit literally means “[have a] good gastric flow”. It implies that you actually wished “good luck” to your guest, assuming that the food contained in the plate was not really healthy… Think about it twice next time you want to sound French!
Verði þér að góðu!
Let’s be honest: it won’t be easy for you to say ‘good appetite’ in Icelandic… But if you make the effort to remember Verði þér að góðu, you’ll be rewarded with the joy to get two expressions at once. Indeed, Verði þér að góðu means both ‘you’re welcome’ and ‘bon appétit’ at the same time. It actually litterally translates as ‘May it be of good to you’ in the sense of ‘May it do you good’. If you want to complement your knowledge of the Icelandic language, you can also say takk fyrir mig after eating. It is usually said to whoever cooked and it means directly ‘thanks for me’ but is a way of thanking the host for the food.
United Kingdom – Ireland
Enjoy your meal! – Good appetite!
In English, there is not any set phrase for the French Bon Appetit, and it’s even slightly stilted to say “enjoy your meal” to the others at the table. It is even said that unlike Bon Appétit and similar phrases in other languages, enjoy your meal can only be said by someone who is not participating in the meal. But it doesn’t matter! As one Brit tells me anyway: in the United-Kingdom, when it comes to gastronomy, one does not actually say Good appetite but rather Good luck…
Nyt måltidet ditt! – God appetitt!
Nyt måltidet ditt! That’s ‘Enjoy your meal’ in Norwegian, or, more precisely ‘Get ready for your meal’. And, indeed, you’ll have to be quite ready and have a strong appetite to enjoy Norwegian delicatessen, such as the famous Tower Cake – or, in Norwegian, the Kransekake. Most Norwegians eat three or four regular meals a day, usually consisting of a cold breakfast with coffee, a cold (usually packed) lunch at work and a hot dinner at home with the family. Depending on the timing of family dinner (and personal habit), some may add a cold meal in the late evening, typically a simple sandwich.
Smaklig måltid! No, it’s not the name of a bedisde lamp or a wall cupboard from a famous Scandinavian furniture and home accessory brand but just the equivalent of Good Appetite in Swedish! If translated word for word, it would give ‘tasty meal!’ in the sense of ‘[Have] a tasty meal!’. To be completly precise, the word måltid translates to “meal” but can mean two things: either it is a serving of food, or it is the event of eating such a serving.
Finnish language might sound exotic to those who are not used to use so many letters and in particular vowels. But it’s actually quite simple: the word hyvä simply means ‘good’ and ruokahalu, ‘appetite’. So the whole – Hyvää ruokahalua! – just means ‘Good Appetite’. If it’s still to complicated for you to pronounce Hyvää ruokahalua!, especially with a full mouth, then better toast with the equivalent of English cheers – the short and enthousiastic Skål!
Danes have words that work like Swiss army knives! This is the case for Velbekomme! which has three different meanings. It’s either the equivalent of Bon Appétit! but it can also mean ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘may it do you good’. This is mainly due to the fact that the word is composed of vel which means ‘well’ and bekomme which means ‘to effect’. Now, velbekomme is a bit tricky. It can either be said at the beginning of the meal (‘enjoy!’) or at the end, where it means something along the lines of, “I hope you enjoyed it”.
Netherlands – Belgium
Is it tasty? Is it delicious? Then it’s Smakelijk! It’s the closest Dutch expression to ‘Good Appetite’. An alternative expression is Smakelijk eten! which translates to ‘eat tastily’ or ‘eat with taste’. Another one, close in meaning is Eet smakelijk!. When you leave the table and others are still eating, you can say: prettige voortzetting! which means: ‘pleasant continuation’. Some of you might feel that Dutch people really need this wish in the Netherlands!
Germany – Austria
Mahlzeit! – Guten Appetit!
In most German regions and in Austria, you might hear the strange word Mahlzeit! at the beginning of a lunch or a dinner. It is the short form of a more formal salutation, Gesegnete Mahlzeit (for ‘Blessed mealtime’). While Mahlzeit! is often used as an equivalent to Guten Appetit, this salutation is also commonly used without connection to food or eating in Northern Germany, and this usage, corresponding to something like “hello, everyone” or “I’m off, folks”, is becoming more and more widespread in informal settings, such as between office co-workers.
In Switzerland, they speak Swiss German, and that’s something completely different to the German from Germany. Swiss German has its own pronunciation, many different words, its own grammar, and most Germans even have difficulty understanding this funny language! Instead of Guten Appetit! or Mahlzeit!, it comes as no surprise then that Swiss people prefer saying their own (somehow weird) expression: En guete! which would translate as ‘have a nice [meal]’ – with guet being the German word for ‘good’ or ‘fine’.
You will all know that an Italian wouldn’t dream of beginning a meal without wishing everyone else at the table Buon appetito – the equivalent of saying, ‘Enjoy your meal’ – but do you know how to reply? You can, of course, say Buon appetito back but you can also say, Grazie, altrettanto, which is the equivalent of saying, ‘The same to you’. And if you toast, as we explain it in another article, just opt for the friendly Salute!
Nechte si chutnat! which means ‘Enjoy your meal!’.
Most varieties of Czech and Slovak are mutually intelligible, forming a dialect continuum rather than two clearly distinct languages. It’s then quite normal that the Slovak expression for is a slight variation of the Czech .
One of the most distinctive experiences of world travel is getting to taste all kinds of dishes that are new to you but traditional in the way that they represent a place. So when you’ll be in Poland, do not forget to try the famous Polish Bread from Krakow, the Obwarzanek krakowski Smacznego, or the Polish Christmas cake, the Makowiec. When you do so, do not forget to wish to your hosts Smacznego!. It’s the Polish equivalent of ‘bon appétit’.
Gero apetito! – Skanaus!
Before beginning to eat in Lithuania, it is customary and polite to say Skanaus! or Gero apetito!. It may sound a bit like Italian, but it’s not: these are essentially the Lithuanian equivalent to ‘bon appétit’. If you would like to compliment the food of your host, you should say Skanu (‘tasty’) or Labai skanu (‘very tasty’). If you are complimenting someone’s cooking, you really should say Labai skanu or your sincerity is a bit in doubt.
According to Latvian writer Juris Zvirgzdiņš, “Latvians love eating. We are Northern people, people of peasants, accustomed to a hard physical work through many generations, therefore we still cannot get out of the habit to prepare and consume the food abundant in calories”. Here is a clear warning if you are invited to join a Latvian dinner! So you’ll need a ‘good appetite’ to be able to bear heavy dinner – or in Latvian a Labu apetīti!
Jätku leiba! – Head isu!
We already explained the passion of Estonians for their bread. Bread is so important and so much an integral part of their society and culture that wishing Jätku leiba! in Estonia actually translates as ‘[may you have] plenty of bread!’. Be sure to bear in mind the issue of bread if you have a dinner with an Estonian. If bread is however not your cup of tea, let me than suggest you to opt for a more convenient Head isu!. It’s the more traditional way of saying ‘Good Appetite’ in Estonian.
Смачна есьці! (Smačna jeści!)
The Belarusian food is hearty with ingredients sourced from local farms. The main products of Belarus include potatoes, rye, barley, sugarbeets and various vegetables with livestock including pork, beef and poultry. In Belarus, you’ll may be served with popular dishes such as machanka (a pork stew), vereshchaka (sausage), draniki (thick potato pancakes). Yes, it sounds quite fat. So to be able to digest all this, I suggest you to know how to say ‘Enjoy Your Meal’. Easy: it’s Смачна есьці! (Smačna jeści!)
In anticipation to your next trip to Ukraine, let me introduce you to some useful phrases to know before starting a proper Ukrainian lunch or dinner. First, you have to know Смачного! (Smačnoho) which is the simplest way to say ‘Enjoy your meal’. If you want to compliment your host about the food, you can say ‘It’s delicious’ – in Ukrainian, it’s Дуже смачно! (Duzhe smachno!). If you want to add that ‘It is delicious, but I’m full’, just say Дуже смачно, але я вже наївся! (Duzhe smachno, ale ya vzhe nayivsya!). As you can imagine, this one is always very useful!
Romania – Moldova
Poftă bună! – Poftă mare!
Whenever you are about to eat, whether that’s at your friend’s house or in a restaurant or standing on the street or whilst riding your unicycle on a high wire, before that first bite goes into your mouth, all Romanians in your immediate vicinity (waiters included) are required under Romanian law to wish you Poftă bună! or Poftă mare!. They’re identical in meaning and you can use either one. Mare literally means ‘great’ while bună means ‘good’. Poftă means ‘appetite’, as in “an instinctive physical desire, especially one for food or drink”.
In Hungary, before starting a meal it is customary to say to people: Jó étvágyat kívánok! or just Jó étvágyat! It simply means ‘Good Eating!’. People will respond by either saying the same, or Köszönöm, viszont, which means ‘Thank you, the same to you!’. Waiters often say Jó étvágyat! when placing meals on the table, and if you’re eating a meal with a Hungarian friend they’ll definitely say this before starting to eat.
When travelling around Slovenia, you will drive past many restaurants, called gostilna, that usually serve Slovene food. It is strongly recommended to make a stop there and taste some typical Slovene dishes. When served there by the waiter, you can be sure to hear Dober tek before eating. It’s not the generic name for all dishes in Slovenia, but the equivalent to ‘Bon appétit’, which simple means ‘good eats’ in Slovenian.
If you have the opportunity to eat in Croatia, you will start out with a Dobar tek!. Then you must eat rather slowly, because Croatian hospitality can be overwhelming and your plate will be replenished beyond your imagined capacity. If you have to refuse before a digestion catastrophy, you should say hvala, ne, but the ne must be said about four times before it means ‘no’. This ne, of course, should not be abrupt, but should be accompanied by an apologetic smile, rolling head motions, and hands spread out in a “I’m only a puny foreigner” gesture.
Serbia – Bosnia and Herzegovina – Kosovo – Montenegro
Here is really a convenient Serbian word which means three different things at the same time. As an interjection, Prijatno! means ‘Bon appétit’… but also ‘goodbye’! I know… this can be quite confusing, especially if you’re sitting at a dinner. But, as in many languages, everything is about the context: if you’re about to eat, you’re obviously not leaving! You can also hear the word as an adverb in the middle of sentences. In that case, it means ‘pleasantly’ instead. You see, it’s not that complicated!
T’bãft mir! – T’bëftë mirë! – Ju bëftë mirë!
There are, actually, two Albanian languages – or dialects if you prefer – the Tosk and the Gheg. So in Albania, you can hold your fork up to either T’bãft mir! (Gheg) or T’bëftë mirë! (Tosk). For the latter, there is also a distinction between the singular form Të bëftë mirë! and the plural form Ju bëftë mirë!. In any case, all the different forms of saying ‘Bon Appétit’ actually literally translate to ‘To you may it do good’.
Bulgaria – Macedonia
Добър апетит! (Dobãr apetit!)
There’s one word that can truly describe the food in Bulgaria: tasty! Bulgaria is for instance famous for its quality vegetables and dairy products and its variety of mild spices. This is then definitly a destination you should consider to add on your holiday list. But before arriving in Sofia, I suggest you learn the Bulgarian expression for ‘enjoy your meal’: it’s Добър апетит! or if you prefer in Latin alphabet Dobãr apetit!
Greece – Cyprus
Καλή όρεξη! (Kalí óreksi!)
Greeks love to eat outdoors, and will do so all year round, weather permitting. Following the tradition of hospitality, people will welcome you into their homes with a glass of water and a spoonful of γλυκό (glyko) – preserves made with fruit such as sour cherries or citrus peel. They will also offer you a piece of their delicious bread. When tasting all these great Greek dishes, remember that, in Greek, καλή όρεξη, literally translated ‘kali orexi’ means ‘good appetite’!
Turks have many very polite expressions about eating and cooking. To thank your host for cooking, say elenize sağılık – ‘health to your hands’. This is generally said in the home, but can also be said to the teyze you see slaving over the outdoor grill on which she made your gözleme. When you thank her, she may reply with afiyet olsun. This would probably be translated in tourists’ guide book as ‘bon appétit’. But afiyet olsun actually means ‘may it be good for you’, and can be said before, during or after a meal. This is certainly the reason why waiters who speak a bit of English sometimes say ‘enjoy your meal’ even as you are leaving the restaurant.
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