In languages that have both familiar and formal forms of 'you', how do you when to use each?

I recall my German teacher telling me that in the Old Days (don’t know what he meant by this) University students who started off calling each other Sie would have a ceremony (read: piss-up) for duzen when they had decided that they knew each other well enough to call each other “du”. Sounds like a good idea to me. Clear boundaries. Piss. What’s not to like?

That’s a Staff Report.

And that’s the thing people don’t realize about thou and thine: they were the familiar forms. We’re used to seeing them used seriously only in Biblical contexts, so we tend to think of them as more formal, because of the subject matter. But the language showed that the relationship between the Deity and oneself was anything but formal and distant.

I think that the idea of a Deity with Whom one was on personal, intimate terms was revolutionary, especially in an era of god-kings to whom one abased oneself like a worm.

Context. Social experience.

Like previous posters, I think the easiest example to understand is first-name basis in the US. I had a professor at university who said we could call him Gary. I would never, ever have addressed a professor by his first name without prior permission even though I’m not a big one for standing on ceremony. It still made me slightly uncomfortable for the first couple of weeks, and I’d call him Mr.~ or Professor~ more often than not. When I got to know him a bit by talking to him outside of class, including grabbing a beer a couple of times, it was no problem to call him by his first name. Up to that point, social training made it feel odd.

You get that social training if you’re anywhere close to fluent enough to use both forms properly. If it is offensive, you will probably realize it pretty darn quickly.

I agree with most of what has been stated, at least in France, the “tu” has become current, even more with the young messaging generation, you have to get a feel for it. You woudn’t use “tu” with a potential employer until the day after you started work and so on, but I have rarely seen offense taken, except in stress situations.
I would like to add though that the formal “vous” is a great way of maintaining a distance, with a client, or student, that sort of thing. It’s an easy way of immediately instating the “I’m not your buddy” relationship, while not having to verbalise it. If you use it purposely as a social tool, it’s quite fun.

Exactly. It’s a way to express the idea “even though we’ve never met before, we are both Party members and therefore you are like a brother to me, we’re all in this together”.
FWIW, I always found it more than a bit awkward in practice, but hey, whatever floats their proletariat :smiley:

In Norwegian the formal form of you (which is also the plural) has almost completely fallen out of use.

Just over 100 years ago though, polar explorers Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen spent nearly a year and a half with only each others company, skiing from the vessel Fram up to 86° 14’ N before turning back. They left the vessel in March, and agreed to drop the formal pronoun at new years.

That goes for Sweden as well although many young people have started to use “ni” instead of “du” when talking to older people, thinking it is polite while the customers find it utterly degrading and disrespectful.

Dialect speech used in the Yorkshire area of England still uses thee and thou but again it’s something you would only use to intimate friends, as typified in the phrase “Sithee, lad, thou’ll thou those as thou’s thee and not afore. Think on!”.
It’s rather old-fashioned and such attitudes would probably confined to older people.

Generally speaking, in Quebecois French, if you’re introduced to someone by their first name in a social situation, ‘tu’ is ok. If you’re introduced by surname or it’s a business encounter, ‘vous’ is the way to go. If/when these people say “oh, please, call me (Firstname)”, you can generally switch to ‘tu’ with them as well.

Not to mention being polite to those knights…! :smiley:

IIRC, in German, God is addressed informally, while in Dutch that sounds really disrespectful (which again makes it a very useful tool).

This is something I always fretted about when I lived in Bulgaria. I once mentioned it to a friend (whose first language was Spanish, btw) and he looked confused and said “what’s so complicated? You use ti when it’s an informal situation and vie when it’s a formal situation!” Duh. Apparently I should just know automatically how those differed.

In the end, I called my students and colleagues “ti” and the school director and strangers older than myself, as well as actual old people “vie”. My counterpart once blew a gasket when one of my kids addressed me with “ti”, which I didn’t really care about, but it was amusing.

I don’t think anyone EVER corrected me, so I probably did okay. (Bulgarians were generally not shy about telling me when I fucked up the language.)

We are no longer the knights who say “ni”. We are the knights who say “eki-eki-eki-ptang”.

O, knights who… until recently said “Ni”! May I use the familiar tu with you?

I had a project in Costa Rica, where usted has sort of ended up being the extremely-informal: most people are adressed as “tu”, and “usted” is most commonly heard in situations like a mother calling a child by his whole name (shorthand for “you do what I say this minute or you’ll be in so much trouble it will count as a swimming lesson”).

Us Spaniards adressed our clients using usted, they adressed us preceding our names with Don/Doña. The formal treatment usually ended up being dropped after some time, but what I’m trying to get at is that there’s many ways in which you can be formal or informal and they vary not just by language, but by culture and location.

In English, how do you know whether to address someone as “sir”? Well, it changes by things like whether you’re both in the Army, where you are geographically and so forth, doesn’t it?

ISTM that in American society, which has become increasingly informal, you are most likely to hear “Sir” used by sales or service-sector staff with customers,* by police in dealing with any adult male, by judges and lawyers in speaking to male witnesses on the stand in court, and of course by military personnel to male officers or civilians. Otherwise it’s falling out of use. Depending on tone of voice, it can even be insulting or belittling. Southerners are, in general, more likely to use it than others IME.

*I know several older people who are irritated by the “customer-friendly” practice of some sales staff in referring to them by their first names rather than as “Mr. Jones” or “Mrs. Smith.”

Damn right. And if you’re trying to sell me something, you’ve already lost my business.

In French, the idiom is (or was) “tutoi moi!”. That is, “we are friends, you can use the familiar with me!” It probably takes some time to get to that point, and sometimes it never happens. A German nobleman, for example, would always be addressed as “Sie” and “Ihre” by people of lesser rank unless they had known him as a fellow university or gymnasium student.

I’m going to ask a tangential question – when there is a “polite” singular, what forms are usually used to construct it? I note that French uses the 2nd person plural (as of course does English, where it has all but totally supplanted the “familiar” form), Spanish a clipped form of an honorific (Usted) with the 3rd person verb, German the 3rd person pronoun that is otherwise literally “She” (Sie) … is there any clear trend among languages I’m not familiar with in where the “polite” form comes from?