Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Go "Vous" Yourself.

I have been in this country for 4…no wait 5 years, and at this point I’ve gained a level of verbal fluency that allows me to do as I please and to express myself in almost any situation. Just 2 weeks ago week a waiter in Pizza Hut pissed me off and I went straight Brooklyn on him—in French no less. Even my Frenchboy stated “Damn, you buuurned him!” once the waiter had ran away crying. Now, that doesn’t mean my French is perfect. In fact, I only know how to use about 4 verb tenses. I mumble my way through the passé composé and don’t even get me started on the subjunctive. (Il faut que tu kiss my ass!) That aside, I get by quite nicely with my "Franglais" and I've even been known to tell a few good jokes on my good days.

On the other hand, there is one thing that I just can’t seem to wrap my head around. I am constantly using the informal “tu” in cases when I should be using “vous”. For me this formal vs. non-formal thing is absolute torture and should be outlawed. I mean is “Allez vous faire foutre” more polite than “va te faire foutre”?

(Quick and dirty summary for you non French speakers: “tu” is the informal form for “you” and you use it only with people you know. “Vous” means exactly the same damn thing, but is the formal and the plural form that is used with people you don’t know. If you use the wrong form, people throw rocks at you.)

I have on occasion been known to accidentally use the “tu” form with the wrong people. I “tu”ed the doctor who did surgery on me a few years ago. I “tu”ed the notary who finalized our mortgage, and just yesterday I “tu”ed a salesguy at IKEA. (In my own defense I reserve the right to “tu” the Dr. I think you can “tutoyer” anyone who has seen you naked.) Luckily I have enough of an accent that people realize that it’s just a mistake of a non-native speaker, and they never take it as a sign of disrespect.

Part of my problem is that I don’t know how to conjugate many verbs in the “vous” form and I’m too damn lazy to study, but the other part is, I have a hard time deciding when to make the transition to “tu” with a person I originally used “vous” with. For example, a few months ago we were at a party with people we really didn’t know. That night I was extra careful to use “vous” with absolutely everyone even after several glasses of wine, but then my FrenchBoy through off my whole game by using “tu” with absolutely everyone. In fact I think I was the only person at the party using “vous”, which yet again makes me the odd man out. I just can’t win!

If anyone has any ideas of how I can get past this little hiccup of mine, please do share in comments. And for those of you who are laughing at my little language faux-pas, you can go “vous” yourselves.


Jennifer said...

Oh god, I am SO WITH YOU on the whole tu/vous thing. I wish it were outlawed too. It creates a distance between people and a hierarchy that I absolutely despise!

Jennie said...

"Il faut que tu kiss my ass" made me laugh out loud! I love it! I absolutely hate the subjunctive mood too. It's just as pointless as having two different words for you.

I have problems with tu and vous all the time. I can conjugate the verbs ok, but I seem to switch between the two in the same sentence.

audrey said...

you go girl! i suppose once you are able to tell people where to go in a foreign language then you have reached a whole new level. now that you are super conscious of the whole 'vous/tu' thing it will work itself out. i am a brooklyn girl dreaming of living in france. you inspire me. continued success!

Sara said...

i have that same problem.
i pretty much avoid addressing my adviser at all with verbs as im so unsure as to if i should be using tu or vous with him. its damn hard to have conversations without verbs!

Leah said...

I get annoyed with "vous" as the formal you, but I do happen to like it to mean the plural you because you in English can be vague sometimes. But, about "tu" vs. "vous", as much as I dislike it, I usually stick with "vous" unless I'm meeting/talking with a friend of a friend, a child or someone my own age(depending on the situation, though.)

So, as annoying as it is, that means I would stick with "vous" for anyone older than you that you don't know or any stranger like at shops or on the phone, etc. I wait until people tell me to call them "tu" and find it a bit ridiculous when I'm supposed to "vous" them, but they can "tu" me. Eww. But, like you said, you can always fall back on the foreigner thing and I think they don't find it as big of a deal. Bon courage!

Margie said...

Tock Tock Hey! I'm still here,(not far from Metz) haven't gone away, just been really bad about keeping my blog up to date! It is now, at least for the time being!
I've been here for 8 yrs and can totally relate to the whole tu/vous thing. I've noticed at times even the French have trouble knowing when to use it. There's this gray area, how do you know when to pass over to tu? what a pain!
Congrats on the new home!! Looks lovely! Sounds like it was worth all the headaches.
oh as for any ideas to get over the tu/vous thing. I just figure if I screw up,they chalk it up as a foreigner not knowing the the language. Hey, ignorance can be bliss right? Don't sweat it, I'm convinced the frenchies encounter the same dilema sometimes.

Travel said...

Vous just made my day. I have struggled for years to be able to order a glass of wine (whine.) Between the genders and the formal / informal it makes studying Mandarin look easy.


Madame K said...

Yeah, I habitually use the fact that I'm a native English speaker as an excuse for using the wrong ÿou"---although it happens fairly rarely now.

I'm so paranoid about it that I'm actually improving.

Still, I need to study.


eclat said...

I actually come right out and ask people which they want me to use...that is, if it's a friend of a friend/acquaintance. In all cases, they always say "tu", and I suppose it would be funny if they actually said, "I choose to maintain a respectful distance between us...use "vous". Actually, I'm almost certain that would make me laugh...in front of the person. :0l

Which four forms are you using? I'm familiar with three, though not at all fluent with them, but would like to choose my fourth wisely... /:0l

eclat said...

I actually come right out and ask people which they want me to use...that is, if it's a friend of a friend/acquaintance. In all cases, they always say "tu", and I suppose it would be funny if they actually said, "I choose to maintain a respectful distance between us...use "vous". Actually, I'm almost certain that would make me laugh...in front of the person. :0l

Which four forms are you using? I'm familiar with three, though not at all fluent with them, but would like to choose my fourth wisely... /:0l

The Late Bloomer said...

Hey there! I've been bad about keeping up with the blogosphere recently, and I just wanted to drop in and say hello... The vous/tu debate has driven me crazy for years too, and just when I think I've gotten it down, they throw me another curveball... I do tend to always use "vous" with strangers and such, but then there's that fine line of what age is the person you're speaking with? I ran into a gal this week who wasn't feeling well at the train station, and I asked her if she was OK -- I vous-voied her, of course, as she was a complete stranger, but she must have been about 24 years old -- so nearly 10 years younger than me! And when she used "tu" at one point, I realized that I probably could have been using "tu" as well. But I just felt weird about it...

Then again, "vous" can come in handy when you just WANT to put distance in between yourself and another person who is trying to be TOO friendly and familiar... I can't come up with a good example right now, but I know it's come in handy in the past! When I was an English teacher's assistant, I was surprised because the teachers all told me that they would use "tu" amongst themselves and they told me to do the same, but many of the women were much older than me at the time, so I was always wary of offending someone.

And then there's my boyfriend's father: I always use "vous" out of respect with him, and yet I'd kind of like to use "tu" but he's never told me to do so... So I keep using "vous" for the moment, unless told to do otherwise. So frustrating! It can be a minefield sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Brings back the memories! Ha!
The best thing is to STUDY YOUR VERBS in the "vous" form, believe me, you will not regret it and it will impress the heck out of the Frenchies who mostly believe that Americans are too familiar, which is somewhat true. Blame all the talk-shows for this! Always use the vous form until they say in a light-hearted way that you can "tutoyer" them. Believe me, you'll love it and they'll love you more.
It's just another way to show respect. As for the doctor, I do agree with you but "vous" just shows respect for his profession.

Ciao Bella!


Madame K said...

Yeah, yeah, yeah--I use vous untill told otherwise, but still--I think it's dumb as sin.

I've also come to understand that using "vous" is also some kind of status thing. Like in wealthy snob families, children "vous" their parents. Even husbands and wives use the "vous" form. I'm thinking of implementing this rule with our eventual crumb-snatchers just to be ridiculous.

Also, I will not be studying my verbs anytime soon. After 5 years here, I just don't care anymore. At least I speak 1.5 languages. Most people in France barely speak one.

joy suzanne said...

Philippe tried to convince me that there is something really charming about the transition from tu to vous-- that it marks the beginning of something: a friendship, a camaraderie, that sort of thing. Like the existance of 'vous' allows for the specialness of 'tu'. Something like that.

I get it, but I don't care. I tutoyer everybody and figure I can get away with it because I'm Americaine. We don't stand on ceremony. ;)

Cherise said...

My problem is the opposite. My French language skills are still in their infancy, but I've focused on 'vous' forms as I figured it was better to be safe than sorry. But DH's friends and family are always correcting me, insisting with 'tu'. They don't get that I can only learn ONE at the moment!

jchevais said...

My boss tu-toies me and I hate it. Everybody tu-toies everyone on the team, but tu-toi-ing the boss just. seems. wrong.

I avoid speaking to him in French if I can.

I would much prefer it if he vous-voied me, then I could vous-voie him too.