posted by Simon Kemp
Ah, the eternal problem. To tutoyer your French conversation partner or to vouvoyer? Go too formal and you might come across as cold and distant. Go too familiar, and you might seem disrespectful. Which should you go for?*
*(Answer: if in doubt, go for ‘vous’, but don’t worry too much. The French person you’re speaking to will be so pleased to hear you make an effort to speak their language, they probably won’t care about any slips you make with the social niceties.)
And if you’ve been vouvoying your acquaintance for a while, at what point do you take the big step of a move to tu?**
**(Answer: generally speaking, leave it to the French person. They have a better idea than you do of how it all works!)
A flow-chart has been doing the rounds on the internet for confused would-be French speakers. (I picked it up here, on the LA Times site.) Simply follow through who you are and who you’re speaking to, and it will give you the answer for most situations.
It’s meant to be funny (there’s a special track for if you happen to married to a certain former French President ), but it’s actually surprisingly practical and on-the-money in its advice.
Behold, your francophone social anxieties resolved:
Handy as this is, unfortunately social media and online culture seem to be changing the rules of how all this works faster than even the French can keep up. We’ll stay with this topic next week to see how Twitter and Facebook are changing they way French people talk to each other.