Se tutoyer ou pas?

Thanks to Whale’s disability we are entitled to a certain amount of help, including 8 hours of housework per month.

Originally my neighbour, Claudine,  was happy to oblige but she is not in good health and the paperwork involved when someone is off sick is complicated, to say the least.

Needless to say, I was relieved when, with a bit of help from the doctor,  her illness was ‘upgraded’  so that she could work part-time, thus reducing the need to send off various forms every time she wasn’t well.

However, snce the death of her husband , she has become much worse and, after a trip to the ‘medecin de travail’ she no longer has to work. She recommended a friend to take her place and so Francine has been coming this month.

She is a delightful little lady, bright and chatty, and very thorough. She even went after cobwebs I hadn’t seen!

The only problem, as with most French people, is whether to use ‘tu’ or ‘vous’.

It seems that the rule we learned at school – NEVER to use ‘tu’ unless you were really sure you knew someone well enough – doesn’t apply nowadays. But French people have different views on the subject all the same. Some find it easy to ‘tutoi’ while others are quite uncomfortable  with the idea so it’s not a good idea to assume that you are being friendly by addressing someone informally.

After four weeks of trying to remember to use ‘vous’ but occasionally slipping in a ‘tu’ without thinking, I finally got around to asking Francine what she preferred as she was leaving today.

“Oh, it’s fine for you to address me with ‘tu’,” she smiled, “but I’ll continue to call you ‘vous””.

There followed a discussion about different views among French people and she told me that when she worked for ADAPAH, a society which organises home help, she was strictly forbidden to use ‘tu’ or to ‘faire la bise’ (greet someone with kisses).

“But you’re not a servant.” I protested and this led to a conversation about class distinction.  It was a bit delicate, because I had the impression she wasn’t entirely comfortable using ‘tu’ but she realised that I found it unfair to use ‘tu’ to her if she didn’t reciprocate.

She suddenly broke into a huge smile and the deal was done.

On va se tutoyer. (We’re both going to use ‘tu’). But she’ll forgive me if I forget and lapse into the odd ‘vous’.

Why do the French have to make such a simple thing so complicated?

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14 Responses to “Se tutoyer ou pas?”

  1. Z Says:

    As complicated as it is for us to know how many times for us to kiss someone’s cheek – one or other always seems to make the extra lunge!

    You’re quite right, z, even among the people in our village the number of kisses can vary from the ‘official’ four to two – or even just one!

  2. Keith Says:

    It’s a bit like ‘Sie’ and ‘Du’ in German! You only use ‘du’ when addressing close family etc… and dogs!

    The family on my mothers side live in and around the village where George Fox lived, in Fenny Drayton. It was he who founded the Society of Friends, commonly known as ‘Quakers’, of which my some of my relations still are. Even aften 200+ years people still use the Quaker terms of ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ when talking to close friends and relatives, but frown upon anyone who uses those terms who they don’t know.

    I have to think carefully sometimes when addressing some cousins who are orthodox Quakers so as not to offend.

    So you see, it’s not just the French who have funny ways!

    Me? I’m a Pagan, with just a teensy-weensy bit of Quaker in me! Knowest thou what I meaneth?

    Yes, I think I understand thee, Keith. I wonder if the old English use of thee/thou/thy was exactly the same as the French.

  3. bretonne Says:

    So what about Mme Chirac who always adressed “Tonton” Jacques as “vous”? Come to think of it, I’ve been puzzled reading and watching films about the use of vous when the degree of intimacy would indicate tu.

    Strange, isn’t it? I also think that, if I’ve heard correctly when Bear watches a Sunday mass, the congregation use Tu for God and Vous for the priest!

  4. Pat Says:

    I’ve never quite got the hang of it – especially with the outer members of the French family and it’s three kisses where they hang out.
    I notice nowadays staff address me as Pat whereas in the old day it was Mrs M——–. The respect is still there which is nice.

  5. Keith Says:

    Pat – Mrs M—, thats a strange name; how do you pronounce it?

  6. bretonne Says:

    “Vous for the priest” – in the old days, there might be more than one celebrant! And another example of the derogatory “tuoyer” – apart from Sarko’s infamous “Casse -toi pauv’e con” – the police and similar bodies interrogate suspects in the 2nd person singular.

  7. Susie Vereker Says:

    What an interesting post. Yes, most people around here call me Susie these days, apart from the chimney sweep and the boiler man, who both still call everybody madam. Perhaps that’s why they are so popular.
    ‘Tutoi’ is another complication for the French. I called all my helpers ‘vous’ in Paris to be on the safe side, though it may have sounded odd.

    Sandy, thank you again for your kind remarks about Tropical Connections. So thrilled you enjoyed it.

    Bear has taken your book into hospital with him. He doesn’t usually read fiction but he says he’s read ten chapters and is enjoying it.

  8. Vagabonde Says:

    I just came to your blog for the first time and read this post. Yes tu tutoie or not to tutoie, it is a delicate question. The higher status the family, the more you will hear vouvoyer, and the lower in the social scale, the more tutoyer. I think you tutoie people you have a link with, like family or close friendship. Maybe with the young generation you can tutoyer more. For example my mother was in a nursing home outside Paris for a couple of years and everyone vouvoyer the other. Once a new nurse came and tutoie my mom. My mom was outraged, she asked what was this nurse’s right to tutoie her? She took it as an insult, that she was inferior. Because that is a way also to show that you are superior – for years when I was growing up, people when addressing unkown Maghrebins (Algerians, Tunisians, Moroccans) would tutoie them, like in the south here they would call African Americans “boy”. Many people remember this so they think that if you tutoie them if is because you feel superior to them. So, I can see if you are not French, it is a dilemma. But, also, if you are not French, people won’t get upset with you because they’ll know that you just want to be friendly. At work here (outside of Atlanta, Ga.) there was a French woman who was a translator and I was the only other French woman in a company of over 15,000. We knew each other for about 20 years and she never tutoie me or me her, I could tell she would not like it. But then a guy came in the computer department, from Côte d’Ivoire, he was funny and very warm, and after a couple of weeks we tutoie each other and when we would go on vacation we would give each other la bise (but he did not tutoie her.) I tried to explain all this to my husband, who is American, but it is hard to explain. By the way, in Belgium, many people will tutoie you from the start – like if you ask directions from someone, they’ll tutoie you. The French laugh at that and make many jokes about the Belgians.

  9. sablonneuse Says:

    Thank you for your explanation. We are near Belgium and have noticed that the French poke fun at the Belgians – but in a nice way.

  10. guyana gyal Says:

    Oh, the Spanish do it too, tu and usted. It’s some relic from the old olllld days of court and all that.

    The two kisses / three kisses on the cheeks baffle me, I never know who, how many.

    You’re not alone, G-G. People here vary considerably. Officially it should be four(!) but you never know whether or not people want to carry on after two!

  11. Sophie Says:

    I know, the “tu” thing is complicated and silly!!
    I would say, use “vous” for someone you are doing “business” with, just to make sure they don’t take advantage or think “it’s all right if I don’t do my job properly, she’s treating me like a mate”.
    However you are English, which means they won’t see it the same way and will probably find it fun and exotic!!
    Tu is nothing to do with seeing someone as a servant. It’s just a question of saying “We are keeping enough distance so we are not trying to exploit one another or try to obtain something via friendship”.
    My mother never ever said “tu” to the lady who came to help with cleaning although she is from the village and she had always known her.
    See it a little bit as patting the electrician on the back and calling him “mate” in England.
    Anyway, don’t worry too much about it, you’re English so they’ll understand it’s not easy for you.

  12. Sophie Says:

    Re: “tu” for God is the modern way as in God is your father, he is a relative, he is close to you so “tu”. Catholics used to say “vous” to God 40 years ago.
    For the priest: you don’t know him so “vous”.
    Bernadette Chirac saying “vous” to Jacques. This is extremely posh and shocked or amused a lot of working class French: “We’re governed by somebody who’s so posh he says “vous” to his wife, how can he understand us?!”

  13. Sophie Says:

    Re: Les Belges!!
    Yes we have lots of jokes about the Belges. We do like them a lot though but it’s just to us their accents make them sound (to us) like they’re not the brightest things (although we know they are as bright as anyone of course)!!! Hence the jokes. We mean no harm though as we do like the Belgians and feel like they are some sort of cousins.

  14. Sophie Says:

    This map of la bise is fairly accurate and will help you know what to do where!!!
    http://faux-rebonds.net/2007/12/05/la-carte-de-france-de-la-bise/
    In my region though because we are so close to the Rhône Alpes border you either get 2 or 3 bises but if you bear in mind where people are from you will know how many to expect!!!!!

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