In addition to enjoying the luxury of hanging out with the slow speaking Martiniquais and the confidence boost they provide to my own speaking ability, I also love the fact that the people on this island want to be tutoyer-ed.
Yes. In case you don’t know, the French actually have a verb for calling someone by the familiar form of “you” (tu)—tutoyer versus the formal form of “you” (vous)—vouvoyer. So you can actually ask someone if they would like to be “tu”-ed or “vous”-ed.
I always err on the side of caution and choose to “vous” everyone until I am told otherwise, or notice that they have begun “tu”-ing me. It’s my default position. The way I see it, it’s better to be formal than risk starting off on the wrong side of the rue with the French.
As English speakers, this phenomenon of “tu-ing” and “vous-ing” does not exist in our language, and sometimes I find it too elitist for my taste. I’m guessing my difficulty with the French way of sorting out who is a friend/family versus who is an acquaintance, is the same difficulty but in reverse for the French when they travel to Anglo countries. They must find it quite startling when we greet them for the first time as if we are chums and ask them gamely how they are, when, in fact, they really don’t want to share that information with a stranger.
But the Martiniquais are different. From the minute we met the family we are renting our house from here, it has been “tu”, “tu”,“tu”. When I asked our hosts about it, they simple said, “Mais bien sûr, nous sommes amis, comme de la famille!”
What a delightful change. In my American mindset it makes me feel at ease and makes me feel a greater sense of equality, and all and all just makes me feel good.
Mais bien sûr, nous sommes amis, comme de la famille! But of course, we are friends, like a family.
tu: you, informal
tutoyer: to use “tu” when speaking to someone
vous: you, formal and plural
vouvoyer: to use “vous” when speaking to someone