You and you

Image_2_-_Les_pronoms_personnels_sujets_(Tu-vous)

As I’ve blogged previously, attempting to speak good French is one of our major concerns here.

I tend to look on every interaction conducted in French as a lesson.

For a sustained and wide-ranging boot up the learning curve, however, nothing seems to beat talking to our neighbours.

Just to the side of us is a house which is the second house/summer home of a couple from Laval about 10 years older than us, but they’re both fit and lively and very friendly, whilst just down the road from us at the end of the hamlet live another couple, Bretons, about the same age as us and they’re very friendly too.

One of the big differences between English and French is that whilst we have one word for the second person singular, the French have two – ‘tu’ and ‘vous’, from which other pronouns are derived, such as possessives,

It would have seemed very strange and over-familiar if we’d started off addressing our neighbours as ‘tu’ when speaking to them. The rule is pretty much that until you know someone and you’ve accepted them as your peer then you stick to ‘vous’.

In fact, the French even have verbs to deal with this two yous’ situation – ‘tutoyer’ meaning to use ‘tu’ and vouvoyers to use ‘vous’.

Sure enough, we started off using ‘vous’ all the time here. However, we’re now on ‘tu’ terms with both couples and use it when speaking to them because we picked up that our neighbours were using it to talk to us.

I find it very gratifying and a sign that we’ve been accepted somehow, in spite of being English and inherently ‘different’ in some respects.

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4 Responses

  1. Yes the existence of “tu” and “vous” can be a source of pleasure . But you should remember it’s rather English which is an exception . From the European languages I know, i.e German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, plus English, English is the only one without that distinction . The same can be said of genders for nouns .
    Many anglophones complain about French difficulty, but it’s not exact . English is very simple compared to many ” real ” languages .

  2. English is easy to learn badly for non-English speakers. Our sentence constructions are a nightmare. We might not have noun genders, but everything else is almost impossible, We stress different words in a sentence to change thr mrsning. And just don’t get me syarted on spelling.

    Modern Greek, on the other hand, is impossible to learn without the grammar. It is highly inflective, and where you put a word in a sentence is – mweh – almost irrelevant: totally uninstinctive to natural english speakers.
    However, use the wrong ending (or beginning), or speak greek without the tonos – emphasis – on the correct syllable – and you will be utterly ununderstood.
    I once attempted to say in greek that my mother was 84. It came out that my fanny was 84cm wide. That alone made me many greek friends, they are very forgiving, and share an english sense of humour. But it did make me learn where the tonos went…..

  3. (And huge apologies for the typoes and bad spelling in the above post! Quite ironic really….)

  4. German still has “Siezen” and “Duzen”, but the Swedish have, by mutual consent, virtually given up the “Ni” and “Du”. Now everything is “du”.

    Sadf state of afairs, and as large a sign as any, of dropping standards.

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