Culture(s) / you (informal) or you (formal)?

A1 Breakthrough
In your culture, do you use the same words when speaking to people of the same of age as you do when speaking to someone older?

In French, there are two ways of addressing: the "tu and the "vous” forms.

With friends or family (informal), we use the "tu” form (Quel âge as-tu ? Comment t’appelles-tu ? D’où viens-tu ?). The "tu” form is used when talking to younger people or of the same age and to people we know well. The "tu” form is also used when talking to older family members, or to colleagues or older relatives who asked to be be addressed with "tu”.

When talking for the first time to elders, higer ups, or strangers, in public places such as shops, offices or administrations, we use the plural polite form "vous” (Quel âge avez-vous ? Comment vous appelez-vous ? Qui êtes-vous ?).
In the early stages of a working relationship, we use the "vous” form with each other, even if we are of the same age.

To remember:
I am talking to someone younger or of the same age. I am talking to someone older.
I know this person well. I do not know this person.
We are from the same family. We only have a working relationship.
We are friends.  

Be careful! These rules of politeness are not as strict in all French-speaking countries. It is easier to use the tu form in Quebec or in Africa. In the African culture, using the “tu” form with somebody is a sign that the person is no longer perceived as a stranger but as friend. However, in Belgium and France, using the vous form is standard.

Practical exercises

Culture(s): The 'tu' or 'vous' form?

4 exercises
Look • Listen • Intercultural (communication / initial contacts)