Thursday, April 22, 2010

Können wir uns duzen, Kaninchen?

Ryan and I are doing pretty well in our German these days. Someone told me my German is as fast as my English the other day, which was exciting. But little problems still remain. For example, when we were visiting friends in Berlin last weekend Ryan tried to order a "Kaninchen" of coffee. The waiter was very confused. Then Ryan remembered that he wanted a "Kännchen" (pot) not a "Kaninchen" (rabbit). We had a good laugh.

Another issue is whether to use the formal or informal "you." I wonder if native speakers of languages where there are two versions of "you" have an instinct for this? There are lots of support staff at the school where I work-- an army of schedulers, receptionists, etc. I like to speak German to them, to keep from getting rusty. In many German offices, co-workers use "du", the informal you. But not all. And older people can call younger people "du" but not always vice-versa. There are a few coworkers my age who I have "duzen"-ed with. (They asked me, "We can use 'du', right?" and of course I agreed.) The head receptionist of the school is a very nice older lady, and she always calls me "du" but I didn't know if I could call her "du" or "Sie." I always stuck to "Sie" to be on the safe side.

But yesterday as we were walking through the courtyard, she grabbed my bare leg and said "You're not wearing pantyhose, you must be freezing!" It was a little strange, but I've decided this is a sign that I can "duzen" her. What do you think? Are we friends now? We never have this problem in English!


Julifer said...

KATHARINE MARGARET, keep using Sie with the bare-leg-grabbing friend, unless she asks you to use du. This shall avoid potential embarrassment!

Better to err on the polite side.

bijoux said...

I think once someone manhandles you, you can definitely use "du". She pretty much went to second base, so you're cool.

I actually like the du/Sie distinction because there's the middle ground of siezing someone and calling them by their first name. Heaven knows it's a life saviour for adressing older, non-blood related relatives at some family reunions. Or older work colleagues. Which I think would also work here if the lady haden't GROPED you.


AimeeB said...

If she's older I always wait until I use, "Sie" and she replies with, "Oh bitte, du." She's older, it's her right to pinch your bare legs. She has life experience. ;-)

But I like to be on the safe side too, because my instincts are totally not developed. I end up using du all the time accidentally with people I really SHOULD siezen...and they've let me know it before too. :-/

Lea said...

Interesting post, especially for me as a German. ;-)
Are you sure the lady has been "duzing" you all the time?
Among adults, it is extremely unusual that one person "duzes", while the other sticks to the "Sie".

Maybe "duzing" is normal in this working environment or she offered you the "du" at some point and you didn't realize? In this case, it may be possible that she just doesn't want to be impolite and correct your German.

(Same thing happened to me: My English-speaking language exchange partner suddenly started reverting from "du" back to "Sie" and I didn't want to interrupt her.)

All the same, I agree with Julifer. Just wait until she offers you the "du" properly.

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Rahma said...

Kaninchen or Kelinci (Indonesia)