• Germany's news in English
 
Op-Ed
'I du not Sie the point of the German you'
Photo: Shutterstock

'I du not Sie the point of the German you'

Published: 29 Apr 2014 12:57 GMT+02:00

Even if you are new to the German language or still struggling with the endless grammatical rules, you are probably aware of the precarious business of when to use du or Sie – the informal and formal forms of “you”, when addressing someone in German.

The rules are baffling at the best of times, but as general guide, if you find yourself talking to someone in a position of authority, or co-workers, you should use the Sie form (verb: siezen).

However, if the person is a friend, a peer, or a child the du form (verb: duzen) is used.

Sounds simple? Believe me, it isn’t. Using the wrong form is not just mildly embarrassing, it can release torrents of outrage from Germans, as a couple of The Local’s readers found out to their expense.

“The first person I met on my exchange programme in Munich was a fellow student. I spoke to her using the Sie form. She shouted back at me “Sie!?” She was obviously insulted. I should have used du,” one reader told The Local.

“After that, I lost all confidence in my du and Sie and then made the faux pas of addressing my university supervisor with du.”

Daniel, a Brit in Berlin was having an argument with his landlord. In mid-argument, adding insult to injury, Daniel accidently called him du, making his landlord even more enraged, compounding the argument.

Surely this is why we need to abolish this stupid grammar rule.

Years ago, I was introduced to a former boyfriend’s mother. When we were invited over for lunch she addressed me as Sie, which as a Brit, I found rather odd, and to be honest, a little insulting.

I was having a meal in her home and everyone else was calling each other du, but rule dictated that I use the formal Sie.

In Germany, it’s the custom to wait for an older person to offer you the du form, not the other way around. It wasn’t until our third meeting that she very politely asked if she could duzt me? I’m British and going out with her son, of course she could duzt me!

A perfect example that highlights the absurdity of using the outmoded Sie is Matthias’ story.

“In my company we all use the Sie form with co-workers,” the computer engineer from Berlin told The Local. “One time, after an alcohol-fuelled work party, a female co-worker and I decided to continue the party back at mine. But we were still calling each other Sie,” he continued.

Back at his, things progressed more intimately. “It wasn’t until the next morning that I asked her if we could start calling each other du,” he recalled.

You can see how ridiculous it can all get.

So dear Germans, it would appear you can become acquainted on many different levels, but if you want to display decorum, the rules of address must be adhered to in every situation.

In a time when your language is becoming increasingly anglicized, where every second sentence you hear these days is peppered with English words, isn’t it time to go one step further and drop the Sie and embrace the du, for everyone’s sake? 

Julie Colthorpe

For more stories about Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Merkel summons US envoy over spy claims
Photo: DPA

Merkel summons US envoy over spy claims

UPDATE: Chancellor Angela Merkel's office Thursday asked the US ambassador to discuss new allegations about NSA spying, a German government source said. READ  

Police confiscate WW2 tank hidden in cellar
Photo: Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-490-3270-06A/Wikimedia Commons

Police confiscate WW2 tank hidden in cellar

Police searched a villa in a wealthy suburb of Kiel on Wednesday and found a Second World War tank, a torpedo and other weaponry in the cellar. On Thursday they were still working on removing the tank. READ  

Google game slammed over use of death camps
Dachau concentration camp. Photo: DPA

Google game slammed over use of death camps

News that Google is using the sites of Nazi concentration camps as elements in an "augmented reality" project - an online game linked to the real world - has caused extreme upset to Holocaust survivors' organizations. READ  

Capturing Berlin with an outsider's eye
A Soviet Cosmonaut mosaic in Potsdam. Photo: Digital Cosmonaut

Capturing Berlin with an outsider's eye

It took a German who spent much of his early life abroad to document some of the hidden, abandoned, or forgotten-about corners of Berlin in English. The Local meets "Digital Cosmonaut", one of Berlin's best-loved bloggers. READ  

Greek President cancels Berlin visit
Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos(l) with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Photo: DPA

Greek President cancels Berlin visit

Prokopis Pavlopoulos, President of Greece, has cancelled plans to visit Berlin next Tuesday, German media reported on Thursday. READ  

Guardiola: Schweini must decide on future
Photo: DPA

Guardiola: Schweini must decide on future

UPDATE: Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola said Thursday that Bastian Schweinsteiger holds his future in his own hands amidst reports linking the Germany captain to Manchester United. READ  

Drug-driving trucker kills two police officers
The accident happened on the Autobahn near Dortmund. Photo: DPA

Drug-driving trucker kills two police officers

A truck driver crashed his vehicle into a stationary police car on the Autobahn in North Rhine-Westphalia on Thursday, killing the two officers inside. READ  

Watchdog escapes breast implant fine
A breast augmentation operation in progress. Photo: DPA

Watchdog escapes breast implant fine

A French appeals court on Thursday found German safety standards body the Technische Überwachungsverein (TÜV) had "fulfilled its obligations" in certifying breast implants that were later found to be faulty and sparked a worldwide scare. READ  

Govt 'breaking promises' with new CO2 deal
The RWE brown coal plant in Niederaussem. Photo: DPA

Govt 'breaking promises' with new CO2 deal

Germany's governing coalition came to a major new agreement on carbon emissions on Wednesday evening. But the reported deal has left environmentalists feeling betrayed. READ  

Thais send kidnapper to face Munich justice
A photo used by police to track alleged kidnapper Mario S. Photo: DPA

Thais send kidnapper to face Munich justice

Thai authorities will deliver a man to Germany later this week to stand trial on accusations of kidnapping the wife of a Bavarian banker to finance his lavish lifestyle abroad. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
How to survive the Europe-wide heatwave
Sport
Is Schweini already out of the door at Bayern?
Politics
How German media shaped the Greece crisis
National
Car assembly robot crushes worker at Volkswagen
Rhineland
Weathermen red-faced over heatwave snow warning
Society
An eye for an eye? Mum protects child in playground with pepperspray
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's final day in Germany
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's second day in Germany
National
Queen Elizabeth II's first day in Germany - as it happened
National
Bus passengers tell fake racists where to get off
Politics
What's really in the Queen's handbag?
National
Germans say USA doesn't respect freedom
National
Yes, you CAN buy adult e-books before 10pm in Germany
VIDEO: Watch a 93-metre turbine crash to earth in slow motion
Gallery
Who's got a shot at the German Film Awards
Rhineland
Anger over 'child-free' beer garden
National
How do you do, Majestät?
National
Man defends right to pee in public with tear gas
Features
The Germans who won Waterloo for the British
Frankfurt
Should Germany ban circus animals?
Hamburg
Where people are having the most sex in Germany
Culture
Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Not this student...
National
Dresden's three-decade-long red light
Politics
Upper house calls for gay marriage now
Berlin
Berlin named 3rd-best city worldwide
Sport
In search of the toughest firefighter
Business & Money
German firms shine for European engineering students
Gallery
Hitler's paintings up for auction
National
German's 70-year search for murdered US pilot
Politics
What the G7 leaders agreed at Elmau
Business & Money
What really makes Germans happy
National
Playmobil builder leaves worldwide legacy
National
The car share that became a drug run
Politics
What Snowden revealed to Germany
Rhineland
Why wolf cubs are being raised by hand
National
Hitler's booze cave found
National
Environment makes Germany worth living in
Culture
What's top of the charts in June
Gallery
Germany's most beautiful cycle routes
Business & Money
The business case for Britain in the EU
Rhineland
Why farmers are free to pong up the countryside
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

6,912
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd