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When I was a young lad, I had no difficulty in knowing whom to address as "tu":  relatives and friends of my own age.  As I grew up, it got more difficult, especially as I was spending most of my time in England and losing the daily contact with French conventions.  Nowadays (and I am in my 70s), I find it quite confusing.  The conventions seem to be a bit more relaxed, but I have a friend in his 40s, whom I address as "tu" and who addresses me in the same way.  His wife refuses point-blank to do so, but is happy for me to call her "tu" (I don't, as it seems one-sided.)  She says that I am older than her parents and that it would be wrong.  I imagine that it is still the case that a younger person wouldn't address a much older person as "tu"(other than a relative) without a specific invitation to do so.  At what stage of acquaintance should the older person make the suggestion?

Comments from francophone residents in France (or, indeed, other francophone countries) would be interesting.

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I'm not sure it's possible to overthrow such a strong habit.

I don't know how to explain it but you must not take the use of "vous" as a way of keeping you apart like "you're not a close relative"... My mother is married since 30 years and still use "vous" with her mother in law...

In fact, using "vous" to address someone that address you with "tu" is the highest form of respect.

It's not a formal/polite respect neither a generic/usual respect, it's a "ceremonial" one, one you really mean, one you really feel in your heart.

You can try to ask her to use "tu" with you but I think she will refuse.... it would implies that you are at "the same level" and therefore "deny your wisdom" as an older person.

I know this can sound very very archaic and I'm not sure I express myself correctly but it's true ! That's how I feel it being born and raised in France  :)

Thanks for that.  as I said, I have indeed asked her to call me "tu", but she won't.

One of my uncles (born somewhere round about the beginning of the last century) and his wife always called each other "vous".  That seemed to me, even when I was a child, to be very old-fashioned, but perhaps it wasn't.

I was at my cousin's flat in Paris just before Christmas.  She had invited some friends for a meal.  They included a couple of young women in their 40s (that's young to me).  The conversation was animated and the evening concluded with the usual mass kissing.  Should I, I wonder, have made any attempt to tutoye them?

If that was the very first time you met them, it was up to you. As you are older (understand "from the previous generation") you are the one that can initiate the "tu" if you want to. There is no problem in both ways as your are the "wise and respectable" one :)

If you stay with "vous", you show extra respect and they will think you are someone very well polite and educated. But this also implies you don't have any plan to became close friends one day.

Once the dinner is started and the conversation is animated you can ask "est-ce que je peux vous tutoyer?". Usually we pretend to let pass a "tu" before asking:  like "Tu sais moi je préfère Paris..... je peux te tutoyer ?".  It's never rude to ask if you can "tutoyer" someone, it's a proof a goodwill and interest in the person you just met.

The age parameter will only interfere two times : first, you are the only one who can propose the "tu". It's very disrespectful for younger people to ask it from and older person. Second, younger people will accept your use of "tu" but will keep using "vous" for you. It sounds very strange to address an older person with "tu" no matter the context.

I summary, no, there was absolutely no obligation from your side :)

Thank you again.  Very useful.

If I were to overhear a 20-year-old female address a 50-year-old male as "tu", I should assume that they were related (or, at the least, that he was a close family friend).  But what if the relationship was a sexual one?  Would she use "vous" in public and "tu" in private?  I suppose it might depend on how open they wanted to be.  Again, your comments would be of interest.  (I should add that this enquiry is not based on anything I am likely to experience personally.  I'm just interested in the etiquette.)

I'm really sorry that no-one has had a shot at responding to this.  Any volunteers?

That would be like a young person calling an elder 'buddie' - not uncommon, not at all, but clearly something that reflects a light mood, or meant to be endearment. And surely people would not do that where they expect to be overheard and where such inferences are not wanted.

Thank you for your response, but I don't think it quite gets to grips with my question.  Let me put it a different way.  Suppose I were writing a novel, in which an older man was having a sexual relationship with a much younger woman.  (Or vice versa, if it comes to that.)  In the bedroom scenes, they would use 'tu' to each other.  What would they use in public?  My inclination would be either that both should use "vous" or that the older person would use "tu" to the younger, and that the younger person would use "vous" to the older.  What impression would be given if they both used "tu" in public?

I hope that someone who is wholly familiar with current social usage in France can provide an answer.  (I say France specifically, because the use of "tu" and "vous" does vary in other francophone countries.)  As I said earlier, I was once at home with such matters, but, having been based in England for most of my adult life, I am no longer so attuned to subtleties.

Sorry for the delay, mieux vaut tard que jamais !

In case of sexual/intimate relationship between two people with a significant/visible age difference the use of "tu" or "vous" outside their private life depend on how they want to appear.

If they keep "vous", no one will suspect their relationship, but it would be weird to use "vous" around people who know about their couple. In conclusion: "vous" is for hiding the relationship.

If they use "tu" despite the age difference, then even strangers in the street will suspect/assume they are a couple because this break the "respect rule" that ask younger people to address older people with "vous"

 Généralement on vouvoie plus facilement les vieux croutons pour mettre de la distance (l'odeur...).

 Pour faire simple :

 Vous => Mettre une distance, politesse. (inconnue, patron,

Tu => Ami, famille proche (on vouvoie généralement les beaux-parents et les grands parents, oncle, tante, enfin certains préfèrent être tutoyés.)

Bien sûr.  (Mais je tutoyais ma grand'mère, mes oncles et mes tantes.  Je tutoie toujours tous mes cousins.  Pas de question de préférence; c'était normal dans la famille.)

Ma question, à laquelle Sandra a répondu, était au sujet de l'usage dans une relation amoureuse secrète.

Vieux Crouton (sans doute malodorant)


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