Switching from Sie to Du

Katejo

Senior Member
English - UK
Several years ago I was on a holiday in Poland with an English speaking group. Our bus driver was Polish and spoke good German (after working in Germany for some time) but no English. I ended up being an unofficial interpreter between him and the rest of my group particularly when he joined us in restaurants. Towards the end of the holiday I politely asked him if we could use Du rather than Sie and he firmly said No! It was really embarrassing and has made me cautious about asking that queston ever since.

Has anyone else had a similar experience?

katejo
 
  • Several years ago I was on a holiday in Poland with an English speaking group. Our bus driver was Polish and spoke good German (after working in Germany for some time) but no English. I ended up being an unofficial interpreter between him and the rest of my group particularly when he joined us in restaurants. Towards the end of the holiday I politely asked him if we could use Du rather than Sie and he firmly said No! It was really embarrassing and has made me cautious about asking that queston ever since.

    Has anyone else had a similar experience?

    katejo
    Maybe the bus driver was fund of German tradition that only the older one offers the 'Du', assuming that he really is older than you.
     

    Lykurg

    Senior Member
    German
    Normally one would offer to be addressed with "Du" - and traditionally it should be the older one who does so first, to omit that awkward possibility of refusal.

    Having yet obeyed these guidelines, I never had a similar experience.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    In our age group 5-10 years isn't much. So, it is probably not a matter of age.

    I have the impression that Poles are generally a bit more traditional than Germans. His refusal might have more to do with him being a Pole than with you two speaking German.

    There is another possibility to consider. Saying Du to foreigners in Germany, especially to those coming from the east and south, is sometimes a sign of disrespect and racism. He might have had bad experiences which might have made him hyper-sensitive.

    In summary, what you did was not against etiquette. It was just that person’s choice not to accept the Du. This experience shouldn’t discourage you in the future.:)
     
    Last edited:

    Katejo

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Thanks Berndf

    I was partly surprised because I had put in quite a lot of effort to bring him together with the rest of the group. Without me he would have been completely excluded during the evening meals. By the end of the week, it felt strange to me to still use Sie.

    katejo
     

    Frederika

    Member
    German
    Using Sie is nothing rare to most Germans. My father worked for 30 years with close colleagues and they used "Sie" all the time. Nothing unfriendly about "Sie". It's the traditional and polite German way. Even many younger people switch to "Sie" as soon as they have important jobs and want to feel adult.

    I only use "Du" with friends. "Du" ist about feeling close, not about knowing each other long. At least it is this way traditionally.
     

    Kuestenwache

    Senior Member
    German-Germany
    "Du" as well as "Sie" can be a sign of respect. "Sie" is very often used to reserve a certain form of distance. Offering "Du" shows, that a person in a higher position (teacher, coach etc) respects you as a person of equivalent rank. It is very common especially in sports for trainers and team mates to use "Du" even if the differences in age are significant (some of my old teammates actually had kids of my age themselfes). On the other hand if you don't feel comfortable beeing too close to someone (like a neighbour that you might like as a neighbour but don't actually want to invite over for a barbecue) using "Sie" is a polite but very obvious way to express this.
    To me it was pretty unaccustomed that a lot of my professors and lecturers offered "Du" at the university while our teachers actually offered to use "Sie" when talking to us in the upper grades (some of them didn't really ask us if we felt more comfortable this way, they just used "Sie").
    It really depends on the situation, I still feel weired when young people or kids use "Sie" because I still don't feel old enough to insist on this right, but I have to admit, that I feel slightly disrespected if shop employees or member of customers service use "Du" without a previous agreement.
     

    Frederika

    Member
    German
    In summary, always say "Sie" to adults if unsure about what to do. Only use "Du" if invited to do so. Then you cannot do anything wrong. People preferring "Du", particularly young people, will never be offended by "Sie" and simply suggest to use "Du" instead.
     
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