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Forks, Portland, Lyon - France, Paris - France, Portland and ending up in Bellingham.... the adventures of my life!

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bothersome French: Vous versus Tu

I made a huge mistake when I started dating Brian and I met his parents.  I remember the day too, I had come to France, for the first time, and we were sitting around the table gorging on apero and chips while laughing and having what's France like compared to America conversations.  I was standing next to Bri's mom, and non chalantly whisked my drink around while exclaiming, "Mais, oui, c'est evident, mais tu sais..".  Joce looked at me with a strange eye, I didn't realize it then but I was starting on a journey of irreversible grammatical errors.  The rest of the summer I filled with tu's mirroring their language and following Brian.

It wouldn't be fore another year, when I finally moved to France that I would realize my mistake.  Bri's grandmother was over for dinner and we were snacking on some dinner when I notived Joce motioning to Madame Corrieri and saying, voulez-vous un autre tranche du boeuf? I stared for a moment and it sunk in.  Aghast I leaned over to Bri and said, omg. Am I supposed to be using VOUS with your parents??  Like since the beginning??  He looked at me and nodded, like, DUH.  I was aghast.  I didn't know how to discuss this with his parents and be like, so can we go back to the vous or is it too late?

Luckily, I have understanding French parents, and when I finally had enough French to be able to make conversation on my own I posed the question.  C'est ok si j'avais toujours appelé toi un TU, pourrais-je changer?  She laughed and said, c'est pas nécessaire. I nodded.

Thus I embarked on the horrible journey of deciding when to use the Tu and when to use the Vous.  I've sort of broken down some social rules:

When to use the TU

  • With other students that are in your class.
  • With close friends or people that are your age.
  • Anyone who is younger than you.
  • When someone has requested it, a true French social thing: Tu peux m'appelle TU.
When to use the VOUS
  • Professors or bosses
  • Collegues at work
  • Anyone who is older than you, like at least by a generation
  • Anyone you meet in a store, ANYONE
  • Parents/grandparents of your French boyfriend
  • Addressing a group of people
It can be incredibly annoying, as all those verb forms change and if you make the social mistake of calling someone a VOUS when they are clearly a TU (you risk looking too formal) and vice versa.  Just don't call your boyfriend's parents tu.  That is bad and it's an irreversable mistake.


1 comment:

  1. It's not *always* a bad thing to tu your inlaws - I think a lot of it depends on the family and/or the region. With my ex in Bretagne, the first time I met his parents, I vous'ed them and they just about fell over laughing. The only people I really vous'ed there were strangers, higher-ups and sometimes the elderly depending on who it was.

    But yet with my current bf's parents, I have to vous them because in their region, you vous your in-laws (and also because they are a little bourgeois). It's actually really hard for me to do since I'm not used to it and they are really down-to-earth and nice!

    And just an FYI, when you're asking or telling someone which one you/they should use, there is an actual verb for it (only in France, right??). Ex: "On peut se tutoyer" (or vouvoyer) instead of "tu peux m'appeler tu".


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