Formal or informal situations in French. VOUS or TU?
I am not formal when:
1. I talk to my boss
Of course, it depends if you are in a strict company or in a cool start-up with after-work parties every night.
So, if your boss is sacred like an ancient Jupiter’s statue, you need to say VOUS to his Altess.
In general, the best thing to do when you arrive in a new company is to observe what your colleague say to the boss and do the same.
And in a job interview, you say VOUS to everyone of course.
2. I talk to a stranger
When you don’t know the person you are introduced to, you say VOUS, except if you go to a dinner party with friends and you realize everybody says TU to each other. You don’t want to feel different!
Often, young adults in their twenties say YOU to each other very quickly, even if they have only known each other for five minutes.
At school or Uni, for example, you say TU to other students and VOUS to your teachers.
3. I address people in a shop or a restaurant
If you are in a shop, a restaurant, an administrative building etc., you say VOUS to people who work there (even if it’s a cool fashionable Italian café ? ).
Even if the seller or the waiter seems to be a teenager, you cannot say TU.
It is very important to show respect.
4. I visit my family-in-law for the first time
A very stressful situation: you meet your step family. What should you say?
In a family, people of same age say TU, so you can say TU to your brother-in-law or sister-in-law. But be careful, in some families they can be mistrustful and may need some time to accept you as a TU member. If your brother in law looks like my boss, you’d better start with VOUS and wait for him to say TU. Then do so.
If you are all under 30, go straight to TU with very little risk of mistakes.
What about your step parents, I would advise you say VOUS until you hear the magic sentence ‘’on se dit TU d’accord?’’ or ‘’on se tutoie’’, to which you’ll answer ‘’avec plaisir’’ with a big smile of gratitude. Now you have the permission to say TU and the feeling of being part of the tribe… don’t be too self-confident though ?.
I am not formal when:
1. I talk to a child
Yep, don’t say VOUS to a kid, you’ll be take directly to the closest mental health hospital.
2. I talk to a friend
Your friends are great people, they deserve a TU.
3. I talk to a colleague
Tricky one I would say. It depends on the company, the profession (and the personality) of your fellow co-workers. On your first day, listen to how they talk to you and answer the same way, you might say VOUS for a few days, but hopefully, you’ll end up very quickly saying TU : a sign that you belong to the group … and that you can hope for a long-term contract one day … just kidding, I have no idea how to get a long-term contract. Does that still exist?
4. I talk to my dog
As a matter of fact, your dog prefers TU, so don’t bother with VOUS.
My best tip to choose between TU or VOUS: don’t.
Wait for the person in front of you to talk first and see what he/she uses, then do the same.
(Here I have a personal message to my students: you’ve noticed I made a great effort to say TU to you in class (even if I am a VOUS kind of person). So please respect my efforts: if I say TU to you, that means I give you the permission to say TU in return. Don’t keep going with your polite VOUS, we are equals. OK? 🙂 )
And to finish, a funny anecdote: English films translated into French.
In English we use only YOU, which is very convenient, but not for the French translators. Imagine a film where two people meet: in French, they have to say VOUS first and TU after a moment which depends on many parameters (you’ve seen that above). So, the English-to-French translator must choose the RIGHT moment to switch from VOUS to TU. Not always easy when a love story starts very fast: they say VOUS and the next morning they wake up together saying TU. It’s a little bit odd sometimes, in a francophone point of view.
Voilà! I hope you know how to behave with a French speaker now.
Leave a comment to tell me what you think.