Thursday, May 10, 2007

Mary vs. Frau Barber vs. Mary-san*

The Art of Direct Address is becoming more complex by the minute! At my former job, it could be complicated at times (think: formal vs. informal "you")... but at my new job, I not only have to deal with German norms and language quirks, but also Japanese norms and idiosyncrasies. I've discovered that there's actually no consistency... it all depends on a myriad of factors including, but not limited to:

- your status (employee, manager, directer, etc.),

- your country (Germany, Holland, England, Japan, etc.),

- your language and its particular norms,

- your familiarity with the addressee,

- the distance you'd like to maintain with the addressee,

- your personal preferences.

Here are some generalizations:

- on the "European Level", everyone generally speaks English and calls eachother by their first name,

- on the "German Level", everyone generally speaks German and says "Mr.", "Ms." or "Mrs." and uses the formal "you,"

- the "Management", including German managers, are generally on a first-name and informal "you" basis with one another.

- the Japanese generally call you by your first name, with the suffix "-san" attached.

The question, of course, is how one ought to apply this conglomeration of rules practically and correctly. Hmm.

The majority of my co-workers call me either "Mary" or "Frau Barber." Certain co-workers avoid speaking directly to me and avoid using "you" at all, as they're not sure whether to use the formal or informal version.** My German boss calls me "Frau Barber." My Japanese boss calls me "Mary-san."

Welcome to the International Business World.

*Sorry if this is boring for you guys... this topic fascinates me for some reason. :)

**That's one thing that's interesting about German - you can carry on a lengthy conversation without even saying "you"... you can replace "you" with "one" or "man." Ah, the delicate art of language.


Civil Sarah said...

I find it kind of amusing too. Things we silly Americans would never think about. :-P

Anonymous said...

I think it's interesting too! I'm envious of your job! How's everything going with you????