Did you ever cut air?
How do you cut air? Generally it depends on the consistency. The consistency on the components. If there are a lot of things that attribute to bad air quality, the Austrian is quite quick to say “Die Luft is zum scheiden”.
But these things that attribute to bad air quality don’t need to be physical necessarily. They can also be verbally and/or nonverbally between two people. Then the outsider would say that “zwischen die zwa kaunst die Luft schneiden”. The saying is just that you can cut the air. It does not tell you how.
In German you would say something like “es herrscht dicke Luft” which translates to “there is thick air”. The meaning is the same. In Austria you would use that phrase if three or more people are involved in changing the consistency of air to be able to cut it.
Not only can you use that phrase in a figurative way, but also when actual physical things make the air so thick that you can cut it: when the air is muggy and humid, just as it is before a cleaning thunderstorm you can apply that.
Not only air can be naturally of a consistency to be cut, it can also get that way from humans smoking. Talking about that subject, and especially making rules regarding smoking is always something that causes thick air between everybody involved. You may find a further, quite advanced lesson regarding smoking in Austria in general and in restaurants and pubs in specific here: