How informal is too informal?

1 Dec

I have encountered many problems on my journey to learn German. The grammar is hard and nothing like English and the words are so long that sometimes I need to take a breath in the middle of a word just to make it to the end of it without going purple due to lack of oxygen.

One thing that I may never get my head round is the use of Sie and Du. In English, we just say You to everyone. A high court judge is You. Your neighbour is You. Your best friend is You. The Queen, however, is One (which just proves that there is always an exception to a rule)

In German, it’s not so straight forward. You have to use Sie for polite and formal situations and only Du for situations where you have a pre-existing and familiar relationship.

I always forget this. I say Du to my doctor and to the lady at the pharmacy. It just comes out. I don’t even really realise I am saying it and five minutes after the conversation, I think “Oh no! I’ve done it again!”

My argument is that I just want to be friendly and get on with everyone. This doesn’t wash in German speaking countries. It’s considered impolite to use Du when you mean Sie. However, in my defence, I think I have every right to use Du when addressing my doctor. After all she probably knows me on a more intimate level than some of my closest friends. So let’s stop pretending that there is not some degree of familiarity about our relationship.

Also, the “rule” of deciding when a relationship moves from the Sie to the Du form is unclear to me. I have always been told that when a German speaker uses Du to speak to me then, and only then, I can say it back to them.

Excuse me? I’m an intelligent (on occasion) individual so do I get no say at all in the decision about when we switch to Sie or Du to refer to one another? Perhaps you want to be on more familiar terms that I do with you! Why don’t I get a say in this?

I will continue to struggle with this for a long time I think. My strategy for phoning the doctor now includes a 10 minute pacing around repeating loudly “Kรถnnten Sie bitte…” to get me mentally prepared for the right pronouns.

If you ask me, English is far simpler. But then I shouldn’t have to tell you that.

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