French in France - "Tu" or "Vous"?

Jun 21st, 2012, 12:32 PM
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French in France - "Tu" or "Vous"?

A perplexing question often not only for foreign visitors to France but to the French themselves is whether to use the "tu" form of "you" or the "vous" form for "you". The 'tu' form being traditionally judiciously used only for folks you really feel dear or close to - family and close friends mainly and the 'vous' form for all others, including neighbors and colleagues at work - the vast majority of daily greetings would be 'tu' - this all recently explained to me by a friend friend who is visiting my house for a few weeks -

after I asked her that I had read recently on Fodors that one Fodorite residing in England and who was furiously studying French had posted that it was her understanding that there had been some recently cracks in the 'tu' - 'vous' facade and that 'tu' was now being more widely used - and in response to that query my friend firmly stated - "No not all all" - saying there was certainly not any lessening of the 'tu' and 'vous' gulf and that she only used 'tu' with dear friends and family.

She did explain that one neighbor from North Africa called he 'tu' so she reciprocated but otherwise stated that she would never ever use the 'tu' form with neighbors or colleages at work unless they were also dear friends.

So for travelers not knowing the ins and outs of the 'tu' and 'vous' conundrum I guess are best off always using 'vous' unless they are talking with relatives or close friends.;

Well that is at least one French women's take on it all - do other French agree or not - that the 'tu'-'vous' matter is basically unchanged and one should be very careful in using 'tu' lest they be considering being too familiar!
PalenQ is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 12:37 PM
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Well, for travelers, there's only one thing to keep in mind, really, and that is, you can run the risk of offense if you use "tu," but you can't if you use "vous," except that you might look a bit idiotic using "vous" with a 3-year-old. Most travelers aren't talking to toddlers, though.
StCirq is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 12:41 PM
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Inthink it's better to be too polite than to seem rude...
Agosto is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 12:41 PM
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Another "problem" Germans don't have, however adressing your parents with "vous" like it's still common in many families, has become somewhat strange to most of us.
Vive la France!
logos999 is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 12:44 PM
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To remember easier, think about the song : "Voulez-VOUS coucher avec moi ce soir"
Marighita is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 12:45 PM
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For someone who doesn't know French and is a traveler, you would use "vous". This is a non-issue to anyone who doesn't know what to do, they should not be using the familiar. Who would they use it with?

Some young people immediately tutoie me and I'm not crazy about it when I don't know them.

Most travelers that you are describing don't know French, so not sure how they could put together a sentence, but if they can, they can use tu with animals and children.
Christina is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 12:49 PM
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i heard that one of the fairly recent french presidents [Giscard d'Estang?] and his wife, said "vous" to each other throughout their lives.

taking it a bit far, I think.

IME germans have loosened up a bit since I first learnt german about 40 years ago, but the french don't really seem to have done.

italians have the same rules in theory, but as ever, don't take their rules so seriously!
annhig is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 01:16 PM
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PalenQ - I think your question is mostly of interest to those non-native French speakers who either live in France or visit there frequently and have occasion to encounter people professionally or socially whom they are unsure of addressing properly.

Most casual visitors to France need only use "vous" when speaking with people in hotels, shops, restaurants, etc.
MaineGG is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 01:31 PM
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It is also true in the Netherlands that you should use U until invited to use jij (or je). They use the term tutoyeren for it, dating from their time under French rule.
However no one here will take offence at the use of jij or je rather than U by a foreigner. Except the Queen maybe .
hetismij2 is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 02:10 PM
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I was told to tu for older people and the children should address me as tu
cigalechanta is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 02:11 PM
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I was told to tu for older people and the children should address me as tu
cigalechanta is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 02:38 PM
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Maybe they are thinking more along the lines of the Spanish.
In Spanish tu (you) is used in informal situations.
nanabee is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 05:21 PM
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Keep it simple. Use "you".
colduphere is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 05:27 PM
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I recognize that this is a maytery to us Americans - who call everyone by their first name immediately (unless it is the POTUS or an MD you have a professional relationship with or something) using other than the first name is considered unfriendly. Agree to tu kids and animals. tourists are VERY unlikely to know a local well enough to tu them.

I work in a business with a lot of MD consultants - who are typically very highly credentialed, full professor and often world-known in their specialty. And I have found the americans almost always say "call me X" after the first time I address than as Dr. Z. the British are about 50/50. MDs from other countries rarely say "call me X" unless i have been working closely with them on a project for some time.

Just a difference in level of formality.
nytraveler is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 05:44 PM
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PalenQ, interesting question but my spoken French is so limited that “tu” and “vous” is not a problem.

I have another observation. Correct me if I am wrong. In English we have no equivalent to the French use of constant use of “madame” and “monsieur” in conversation. I recently read MADAM BOVARY and I was struck by how often these monikers are used even among those who appear to know each other well.

My question is: do the French think it rude if English (or perhaps other) speakers do not sprinkle their conversation with so many “madams” and “monsieurs”?
latedaytraveler is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 06:23 PM
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no don't worry about it . The French are very forgiving for our mistakes as long as you are polite
cigalechanta is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 09:44 PM
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"do the French think it rude if English (or perhaps other) speakers do not sprinkle their conversation with so many “madams” and “monsieurs”?"

No. Madame Bovary was written in the 19th century. Language and manners have evolved since then.
Tourists should use "vous" to be on the safe side and "tu"' only if invited (and fluent in French!).
In aristocratic circles it is still done to say "vous" to one's spouse or children and children will say "vous" to their parents.
Young people say "tu" much more easily than the older generation. Nevertheless "tu" is not as frequently used as in Spain, for instance.
North Africans of the older generation say "tu" because the "vous" form does not exist in Arabic. Ditto for some Africans. This does not happen often nowadays with the young generation - born and raised in France.
Pvoyageuse is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 10:45 PM
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There's a very simple, almost universal, rule for foreigners in France (and Italy, and Spain, and Germany).

Vous till you're tued.

You're the visitor. So, if you initiate a conversation you virtually always use the formal (vous, Lei, usted, Sie), except with very small children and animals unless and until the local tu's or du's you. And even little Pierre won't be offended if he's voused

If you don't initiate the conversation, the local MIGHT tu you if they're an intimate or colleague or of the iPad generation. You ought to follow their lead - and obviously will with friends and colleagues - and though personally I find some callow youths' indiscriminate tuing to strangers ill-mannered and am tempted to vous/Lei etc back, I usually suppress my inner curmudgeon.

The rules in Germany are slightly different: between colleagues, for example, it's commonplace to hear them Sie-ing and Herr Doktoring each other in German and "oh crap, Hans: you're always getting this wrong" when speaking English to each other.

The big exception is political demonstrations (universal tu, except with police). At some other events (like university libraries, big football matches, bierfest and community celebrations), my sense is that in France, Italy and Spain universal tuing is now the norm - but for foreigners it's never inappropriate to vous till you're tued.
flanneruk is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 11:36 PM
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Quote flanneruk: "I usually suppress my inner curmudgeon."

Really?! Are you sure?

Dr_DoGood is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 11:40 PM
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As they say in Yorkshire, "Tha tha's them as tha's thee, and not afore".

>>Quote flanneruk: "I usually suppress my inner curmudgeon."<<

I think he sneaks out when you're not looking.
PatrickLondon is offline  

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