Friday, April 21, 2006

Duzen vs. Siezen

German is a language with both formal and informal versions of "you." For all my Spanish-speaking or Spanish-learning friends in Texas, it's comparable to the "tu" vs. "usted."

In German, it's "du" informally and "Sie" formally.

Sometimes it's difficult knowing what to say to whom. As a general rule, when you meet someone your age or older, you use "Sie." Normally the older of the two will initiate the "duzen" - give the younger person permission, in a way, to make the transition from "du" to "Sie."

People in Germany are generally more formal than in the States... when you first meet someone, you always say "Herr or Frau So-and-So" (Mr./Ms./Mrs. So-and-So). At first I felt weird when people twice my age addressed me as "Frau Barber", but I've gotten used to it now. The other day, as a matter of fact, I was actually a little taken aback and felt like things were moving too fast when someone I'd just met called me "Mary" right off the bat.

There are currently duzen vs. siezen issues with one co-worker in particular, whom we'll call Michael Mustermann.* He's in a different department, so I don't have too much contact with him... but enough contact to where I think we should duz eachother. He's one of the higher-up bosses, and older (40?) so it's his decision whether or not we take that step.

Whenever I write him, I write "Herr Mustermann" in order to be respectful, but then sign "Mary", hoping he'll take the hint that he can call me by my first name. Which he never does.

The confusing thing about him is that he communicates a strange mixture of the two: he'll sometimes siez and sometimes duz. Instead of writing "Frau Barber" or "Mary", he always writes "Mary Barber." He signs his own e-mails "Michael Mustermann" as well (as opposed to "Herr Mustermann" or "Michael"). Mixed signals! Not fun!

Unfortunately, there seem to be no set rules on when to duz and when to siez. I thought that everything in Germany was "geregelt"... maybe I've found an exception! :)

*name slightly altered to protect privacy

Lyric of the day: "Why, why do I try to change you? Try to change you when you really don't want me to? Why, why do I try to love you? Try to love you when you really don't want me to?" (Thanks to Alanis!)

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