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    Mmmm. That's a really hard one. I'm always so careful to use the "vous" that I almost never use the "tu" when I'm not talking to my friends (and then we're talking in English anyway so what does it matter?) because I'm scared of making a similar mistake. However, I feel like you handled it well because you don't want to draw any more attention to the mistake but nor do you not want to acknowledge it either.

    I have a REALLY hard time when I meet people at networking stuff, which are halfway between social and professional - do I vous? Do I tu? I always pick the wrong one. People are either amused I'm addressing them formally or pissed that I'm disrespecting. It's terrible.

    It's such a minefield isn't it, when you just aren't hardwired to make tu/vous distinctions that way... And sometimes the brain takes a while to catch up with the tongue.

    How did she react? I take my cue from whether the person smiles in a 'I'll forgive you seeing as you are a foreigner' kind of way, or looks horribly affronted.

    well, you can just bull thru unless she stops you, but with an employer...

    what you did is probably best, especially if she didn't take the opportunity to say 'tu' was fine.

    This is what you missed the blogparty for?


    I've seen even French people slip up on this one, believe it or not. They usually either just revert immediately back to the 'tu', sometimes excusing themselves.

    It's really not THAT big of a deal, as long as you show it was unintentional and not meant to be disrespectful. Besides, during the English classes, who's the boss? It's you!

    When I was living in Japan...hey...I WAS an expat at one time...whoo hoo...anyway, when I was living in Japan, I taught conversational English. I agree that the children were harder to capture, but the adults were wonderful to teac, especially those my age [26]. I so loved that job.

    Once I unknowingly called my belle-mère 'tu' by saying "à tes souhaits." In my defence, I didn't know what the phrase meant, I only knew that people said it to me after I had sneezed. I stupidly figured it was one word rather than a phrase.
    Her head whipped around and she scared the * out of me by screaming, "A VOS SOUHAITS."
    That day I learned the meaning of "à tes souhaits" and I also learned that 'vous' does not sound respectful when it is sprewed forth like raging hot lava.

    What a scary belle-mere, delaîdo!

    I just let the French decide on using 'tu.' I figure, hey, vous is usually good enough, and then can correct me if they want. My French is bad enough that I'm usually corrected on a bunch of other stuff too. Touching poop would be less embarrassing.

    I'm (among other things) an instructor in software development classes, and I usually use "vous". I've already got enough troubles being Italian, with French students, the course materials in English, that deciding between the 2 would kill me.

    Vous. I'm always about vous. Even with people I've worked with for years. And always with people younger than me (so they know they have to vous/voyez me back). But people who make a big deal over a tiny slip up are bourgeois peegs.

    i have a similar problem with japanese. there's an entire other way of speaking (called keigo - formal language) when addressing superiors and elders. THEN there are also different levels of keigo, one for people outside of your social group, one for when you are speaking OF someone in your group, and one for speaking TO someone in your group. there are days when i wish i just had to decide between 'tu' and 'vous'! i feel your pain.

    While in Spain I once thought I was being so clever by remembering to Usted my new teacher, but I ended up getting laughed at, as that was FAR too formal for THAT situation (a half-day summer course for teenagers). It's a lose-lose situation!

    a belle mere is a stepmother right? the woman married to your father? isn't there a lot of familiarity there? hmmm. i like the i'm your stepmother i must kiss your ass to make you like me after taking your mother's place in your father's affections and treat you as much like my child as possible without overstepping my bounds system we have here better. i might be a little biased.

    I hate kids.

    I have a 'tu'/'vous problem, as well as a tendency to say 'on' instead of 'nous' which, my friend Mireille tells me, is not allowed unless I'm a born and bred Parisian.

    She was born in Minnesota, so I don't know why the hell she's talking.

    Oh, I've made the same mistake... with my first-year French prof. I immediately turned six shades of red and wanted to hide under my cahier. She, however, was the world's nicest teacher, and just laughed it off. Maybe she was accustomed to such gaucherie.

    Also, yay for A Christmas Story references.

    My belle-mère is my mother-in-law (although belle-mère can also mean step-mother). She's an interesting lady that I have next-to-nothing in common with. Well, I like her cooking. Anyway, I have decided that she's certifiably crazy. And Sammy's right because she can be scary too.

    I should say that my pupil didn't seem too affronted. She's not a "borgeios peeg" thank god.

    Yes Mathieu, I missed the blogparty for tutoring. Different lady, though.

    Delaido, sorry about that belle-mere of yours.

    vous tu vous tu.... I don't know who thought that one up , but it sure wasn't an expat!

    Thanks, Coquette, for telling us that Caroline did not take your slip-up amiss.

    Isn't it the rule, however, for teachers to address students in the second person singular?

    Hi RJ,

    Yes, teachers address students in the second person singular. 'Vous' can be singular or plural, depending on the circumstances. ('Tu' is always singular and familiar.)

    In Coquette's case, it would have been more advantageous to address her Adult Student as 'Vous' (the singular and polite form of second person) because of their relationship.

    I've been living in Montreal for a few years now, and even though I've never taken a French class, my spoken language skills are passable. Interestingly enough, the French in Quebec is quite different (and significantly less pleasing to the ear) from Parisian. They are not generally sticklers about the tu/vous distinction, and it wasn't until some of my friends from Europe, the Middle-East, and Africa (who consequently speak beautiful Parisian French) corrected me that I even knew what the distinction was.

    Where are you? We want a post, we want a post!

    Reading your post reminded me of the summer on Nantucket in the mid-80s when an older woman paid me to tutor her in French. I was 16 or 17 at the time. The only book I could find on the island that was at the right reading level for her was "Peter Rabbit." Poor woman.

    Slipping like that is generally interpreted as a sign of fondness for the person and isn't really a reason to apologize, but I do understand your point. This has happened to me in French and German both, and gets really confusing in groups (like in our university department) where two thirds of my colleagues say "tu" (or "du") and the other third say "vous" ("Sie"). I'm in my early 30's and just say "tu" to everyone under 50, as long as they're not a professor. The French tend to be a little more formal in this matter, so I tend to use "vous" with older people in any capacity and use "tu" with people of the same age or younger in non-official ones. Ugh. It's so hard coming up with rules for this, since we tend to do these things be the seat of our pants. Your post really shows how confusing things can get.

    And like someone mentioned, the French also have their 'lapsus', so I suppose we'll be forgiven. :)

    A famous joke about Helmut Kohl talking to Ronald Reagan involved Kohl saying "You can say you to me."

    Ma petite coquette,

    Sammy said it best:it's no big deal, as far as I can tell after being away 30 years+. I think the French are slowly becoming less formal.
    Pour illustrer, je t'apprends que ta grand-mere maternelle disait "vous" a sa mere - ton arriere grand-mere. Raison: ton arriere grand-mere etait une veuve assez jeune et voulait recevoir le respect des nombreux ouvriers sur la ferme dont elle etait la patronne. Cette pratique etait frequente dans les familles traditionelles "dans le temps" - c.a.d. 19ieme siecle, debut 20ieme.
    (sorry about the french spelling "sans les accents")

    Well, Mr Coquette, we'll let it go just this once. Parce que c'est vous, hein?

    Sad to see you do not have a french keyboard for special occasions :(

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    Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning.

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