oh my GOD is that an actual conversation French-speaking people have with one another??? one day y’all just look at each other and say, “hey, we’ve been pals for x amount of days, please address me with the informal tu henceforth”???? if you have a f


I mean, yes, it’s just a fact of life that you will need to have a Pronoun Moment with everyone you meet. If you are the younger person you will one day be told it’s okay to drop the formal pronouns; if you’re the older one and started off using ‘vous’ with a younger person you usually ‘ask’ to switch to informal pronouns in a way that is more like, granting yourself permission (“I’ll say tu, if you don’t mind”) If there’s no clear age or hierarchy difference people still usually start with vous until they are more comfortable with each other and there comes a moment of mutual agreement, like “On se tutoie peut-être ?”

“Use ‘vous’ with everyone older, ‘tu’ with everyone else” is a risky rule—among strangers it’s a safer bet to start prudently with vous, except to address kids and teenagers, and even then there are exceptions… At university you typically say “tu” to all the other students even if they are older, but if you are an adult and ask a question to an 18-yo employee in a shop you’ll say vous in that context. When I was tutoring high school students I wouldn’t tell them to switch to tu although we were just a few years apart, because I wanted these home lessons to have more of a formal, school feeling. Many teachers also call their students ‘vous’ starting in middle or high school.

There’s a bit in my diary from when I was 10, in which I ponder the fact that in primary school we could call our teacher ‘tu’ but now we can’t anymore:


“Another difference in middle school is that we’ve now got to say vous to our teachers. It’s going to take some getting used to, we all forget all the time, a boy even swore yesterday after he got it wrong. The teacher told him “If I must choose, I would rather hear a ‘tu’ than a ‘merde’.” Personally I’m happy to switch to formal pronouns; it allows for polite criticism. Telling your teacher “Tu as tort” [‘You’re wrong,’ with informal pronouns] sounds brutal, like a whiplash, whereas “Vous avez tort” is softer and more respectful, almost obsequious. I shared this theory with Mum, but she laughed and told me that alternatively, I might consider not telling my teachers they are wrong, formally or informally.”

I love the quote from the teacher in the diary excerpt.