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French Culture/Vouvoyer vs. Tutoyer


Hi Caro,

I live in Ontario, Canada.  I speak French at a fairly high intermediate level, so I understand the basic differences between the vous and tu forms.  Yet something happened in one of my French classes recently that really turned me off.

For the past two weeks, I have been enrolled in a summer French immersion program, at one of our local universities.

There are 6 students in the class.  The teacher is 26 and male (and a very nice person).  I am a 44 yr. old female, and the other students include a 6o year old woman, and four 'girls' in their twenties/early thirties.

I've taken courses with this teacher in the past, and we have always been very friendly and casual when we talk...he usually just calls me by my first name.

Anyways, in class, he only refers to all the young girls as 'tu,' and to myself and the older lady as 'vous.'  In fact, he takes it a step further and calls us 'Madame Valerie'  and 'Madame Kelly.'  The older woman is disgusted by how he differentiates us...and calls it ageism. We asked him to just tutoyer us, and he said he couldn't because of our age...that it's a sign or respect to people older than yourself.  While I understand this, I find it creepy.  We are all adults, and we are all his students.  I feel he should address us the same of the twenty year olds even slipped up and said  'madame Valerie' today.  I cringed inside.

He is not born in Canada, but is from the island of Maurice.

Is his making a distinction amongst us sure feels terrible every time he refers to me.  Furthermore...I am a young looking 44...whereas the 60 year old looks her age.  Not that it matters, but this makes me feel even older to be lumped in with her.

Your opinion on this?

Thankyou so much!!!! vieille dame....

Hello Valerie,

I thought I had sent you my reply but I have just realized that I had not.
As I explained in my previous message, I perfectly understand your point of view, since you feel that you are not considered as the other students. However, I also understand your teacher's point of view.
This is a classical cultural misunderstanding.

It happened to me a few years ago. I worked in an office with colleagues of the same age as me, except the secretary who was close to retiremet and was the same age as my mother. While I said "tu" to my colleagues, I addressed her with "vous". It was a way to show respect. She eventually told me that I should definitely say "tu" and I had to make efforts to change this habit. It was not natural.

I think you should talk to your teacher and explain that you are not comfortable with this, explainiing that you  feel discriminated. I am sure he could understand.

I hope this helps



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