Friday, June 17, 2016

German for Dummies: "Du" & "Sie" & how to get totally confused about correct use

The Awful German Language - the blogster is only quoting Mark Twain, so don't complain to me about the phrase - just got a bit more awful.

LIDL, a discount grocery chain, one of Germany's biggest retailers, is taking its philosophy of simplification to the German language itself.

The language holds an unwelcome surprise for folks from the world of English, i.e several ways to express the simple English "you".

There is an informal way to address a single German: du
Then there is an informal for more than one German: Ihr 
The formal, sometimes called the polite variant, is Sie for any number of Germans.

If you include the one, i.e. the variant of "you" that means "one", one could say there are four versions, with the latter one being "man" in German.

Here is one definition of the "du": This form is expressed only with those with whom one is on familiar or intimate terms, such as: family, close friends, children, pets and in prayer. In Germany the word friend isn't used as liberally as in America, or at least it doesn't carry quite the same meaning.

There is a strong tradition of using "du" among working class Germans without regard to whether you are familiar with each other. Everybody else gets the "Sie" treatment.

In theory.

In practice, foreigners have shown a tendency to use "du" as the single form of address, such as "du, Frau Doktor" or "du, Herr Präsident", while learning the language.

Young people tend to use "du" more liberally in settings which would have been a case for the formal "Sie" just a few decades ago.

Enter LIDL.

Employees are to use "du" exclusively from the minimum wage temp to the CEO of the group. The change came by decree of the CEO, who is known as having a strong personality.

Store customers continue to get addressed with the formal "Sie". 

This being Germany, the local paper of the city of Heilbronn, home of the LIDL group, invariably followed up the announcement with a "pro" and "con" article on the wisdom or lack thereof of such a sweeping measure in general.

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