French Language Tips

The intricacies of verbal interaction in French

Let me give you some tips on the French language. Assuming you’re planning on visiting France, I’d imagine by the same token that some of you have had some French language lessons, either in school or via some language tapes or variations of the above.

One of the first things you run across in any approach to a new language is verbs use, and thus the correct subject to employ.

Have I lost you yet?

If so, without the grammar vocabulary: the question of how you address the person facing you comes up pretty quickly.


"Tu" or "Vous"?

In English, we say “you” when referring to the mustachioed fellow waiting patiently to take your cash before handing over the loaf of bread.

In the French language, there are several forms of “you”. They are “tu” and “vous”.

“Tu” is used with people that you know, not the mustachioed guy.

“Vous” is for everybody you don’t personally hang out with and also for a group of two or more people, whether you hang out with them or not.

Sounds pretty straight forward? Don’t believe it.


My Former In-Laws, As an Example...

I know my former in-laws rather well. In fact, I’ve shared fourteen years worth of dinners, holidays, vacations, birthday parties, trips to the hospital, tears, arguments and gift giving with them.

You’d think “tu” would work. It doesn’t.

“Vous” shows respect, and although I don’t feel any distance from them, never, out of respect for their position as my elders and as my in-laws, would I dare use “tu”.

They address me as “tu”, and I was quite happy when they first did. It was a sign that they had adopted me into their family. Still I would never be allowed to do the same. They invited me to do so, but I had their son’s voice whisper into my ear saying, “Don’t do it, in the long run, you’ll be considered as too uppity, if you do. Better to keep the outward signs of respect in place.” He, however, can use “tu” freely with them, as do his children, with no sign of disrespect whatsoever.


So, What to Do?

So, how do you know when to say “tu” and when to stay using “vous” in the French language? Well, I’ve been here for 28 years now, and I’ve got an idea about it, but even I doubt myself sometimes.


More Examples

The best way to illustrate this French language tip is with some examples.

We’ve established that the elderly need “vous”, unless they’re your blood relatives.

Children and pets all expect “tu”. And yes, sometimes you do need to talk to animals, I do it all the time. And they answer me, as well, in their version of their language, and I expect they address me with their equivalent of “tu”.

Children and young people amongst themselves, up until the general age of 18 or so, automatically say “tu” when speaking to each other, whether they’ve met previously or not.

The down side of this carries a kick in the teeth when someone to whom you’ve just used “tu” responds with “vous”. This is the polite way of showing that the person thinks that you’re over the hill. With age comes respect, and “vous”.


To Discourage Familiarity..

The consistent use of “vous” is also a way of keeping someone at arm’s length. If you don’t want to encourage familiarity: use “vous”.

When a seedy character of the opposite sex is coming on to you, and you can’t flee: use “vous”, always. These types will rapidly slip into the “tu” form in hopes of heating up the conversation, as it were. Insisting on “vous” puts a distance between you and the unwanted attentions of the once again mustachioed, wedding ringed fellow wanting to buy you a drink. Of course, you’d never accept it anyway. But telling him to take his unworthy self over to the closest bridge and dispose of himself from the top of it must be expressed with “vous” as in: “Vous allez me laisser tranquille à la fin?” (Are you ever going to leave me alone?)


And for Brad Pitt?

Should he resemble Brad Pitt, who by the way comes to France on a regular basis avec and sans “Angie”, you might choose to accept his presence and his offered drink. In which case, keep in mind that the first “tu” you use will lead you down the merry path which has brought me to the spot from which I write this article on the French language tonight.

Cupid uses “tu”.

Beware. ‘Nuff said.


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