Você in Portugal

Ciel Noir

Senior Member
British English
Bom dia a todos!

I know this question has been discussed fairly extensively on this site and elsewhere, but I still don't feel completely comfortable with the use of 'você' in European Portuguese in all circumstances. I understand that responses differ depending on factors like region and even how old a person is (as people of different generations seem to have different views on the topic), but generally speaking, can anyone from Portugal (particularly Lisbon) confirm that the following uses are correct:

Tu: Someone significantly younger than yourself, fellow students in school or university, friends and family, speaking to pets.

Você: Someone of similar age met outside of the school or university environment, fellow colleagues (until you know them well), professors at university (unless clearly a lot older than yourself or in a very senior position), shop keepers, taxi drivers, waiters and other service people.

O senhor or a senhora: People significantly older than yourself, people in high positions of autority (bosses, politicians, police officers), grandparents or even parents in very traditional families, any customers except children (when working in a service job, such as a restaurant, shop or as a taxi driver).

I feel reasonably confident that the above is correct, but then some Portuguese people have told me that 'você' is actually a bit rude in Portugal. On the other hand, when I called my language tutor 'a senhora' she told me not to say that because it made her sound old, but 'tu' seemed ridiculously informal when meeting her for the first time and I was aware that some people consider 'você' rather brusque. I therefore don't always feel very confident when having to address someone who seems to fall between the 'tu' and 'o/a senhor/a' boundaries. I feel that I'm fairly comfortable with the situation in Brazil (where 'tu' is generally not used, except for some regions like Rio Grande do Norte), so it would be nice to hear a few opinions on some of the nuances I've mentioned above in European Portuguese.

Obrigado!
 
  • Carfer

    Senior Member
    Portuguese - Portugal
    Bom dia a todos!

    I know this question has been discussed fairly extensively on this site and elsewhere, but I still don't feel completely comfortable with the use of 'você' in European Portuguese in all circumstances. I understand that responses differ depending on factors like region and even how old a person is (as people of different generations seem to have different views on the topic), but generally speaking, can anyone from Portugal (particularly Lisbon) confirm that the following uses are correct:

    Tu: Someone significantly younger than yourself OK (with some restricitions, see my note below), fellow students in school or university OK, friends and family OK, speaking to pets.:tick:

    Você: Someone of similar age met outside of the school or university environment 'tu' would probably be right, fellow colleagues (until you know them well), OK professors at university:cross: (unless clearly a lot older than yourself or in a very senior position) I wouldn't use 'você' with a professor irrespective of his/her age, shop keepers, taxi drivers, waiters and other service people. We are in muddy waters now. Third person is ok and also the most common but without an explicit 'você' (Diga-me..., Vá... , Viu...?, etc.). This can be the solution when in doubt: use third person without an explicit 'você' as it covers both 'você' and 'senhor'. No one gets offended.

    O senhor or a senhora: People significantly older than yourself OK, people in high positions of autority (bosses, politicians, police officers) OK, grandparents or even parents in very traditional families OK, any customers except children (when working in a service job, such as a restaurant, shop or as a taxi driver):tick: 'tu' maybe ok with children but a more cautious approach would be to say 'o menino', 'a menina', specially if you would call his/her parents 'senhor/a'.

    I feel reasonably confident that the above is correct, but then some Portuguese people have told me that 'você' is actually a bit rude in Portugal. On the other hand, when I called my language tutor 'a senhora' she told me not to say that because it made her sound old, but 'tu' seemed ridiculously informal when meeting her for the first time and I was aware that some people consider 'você' rather brusque. I therefore don't always feel very confident when having to address someone who seems to fall between the 'tu' and 'o/a senhor/a' boundaries. I feel that I'm fairly comfortable with the situation in Brazil (where 'tu' is generally not used, except for some regions like Rio Grande do Norte), so it would be nice to hear a few opinions on some of the nuances I've mentioned above in European Portuguese.

    Obrigado!
     

    Ciel Noir

    Senior Member
    British English
    Thank you very much for your reply!

    I have used the trick of not explicitly saying 'você' or 'o senhor' when in doubt and instead just using the appropriate form of the verb. The problem is sometimes it's quite awkward to keep avoiding it. To give perhaps a slightly unusual example, if you went to a hairdressers and the person at the counter said, 'Quer que eu corte o seu cabelo ou que a minha colega faça isto?', it would be hard to respond without explicitly saying 'You', as saying 'Pode fazer isto' leaves it unclear as to whether I'm signalling the person I'm speaking to or their colleague. Surely people in Portugal don't just run into awkwardness like this all the time without knowing what to do? Is it perhaps better to just err on the side of caution and say 'o senhor' or 'a senhora'?
     

    J. Bailica

    Senior Member
    Português - Portugal
    Thank you very much for your reply!

    I have used the trick of not explicitly saying 'você' or 'o senhor' when in doubt and instead just using the appropriate form of the verb. The problem is sometimes it's quite awkward to keep avoiding it. To give perhaps a slightly unusual example, if you went to a hairdressers and the person at the counter said, 'Quer que eu corte o seu cabelo ou que a minha colega faça isto?', it would be hard to respond without explicitly saying 'You', as saying 'Pode fazer isto' leaves it unclear as to whether I'm signalling the person I'm speaking to or their colleague. Surely people in Portugal don't just run into awkwardness like this all the time [yes we do, kind of :)] without knowing what to do? Is it perhaps better to just err on the side of caution and say 'o senhor' or 'a senhora'?
    You are getting close, the professors at university being your major error, like Carfer pointed out; I would probably say 'O professor podia (poderia) repetir a frase?', for example.By contrast,depending on several factors, I might use 'você' with táxi drivers, shop keeprs, etc. To me, it depends not only on age and acquaintace [I hope the word is right...] but also more subjective things, like the way people portrait the self image, if I make myself clear. People of the same age and 'condition' may behave very differently, wich is noticeable by clothing, speech, etc.
    More than that, I guess there is also the 'casuistic factor': if the shop keeper I am talking to, whom i have never met before, happens to talk, say, about the crisis, the austerity, the troika, the polititians, etc, and I happen to agree (or pretend I do, just to get out as soon as possible :)), and so we found ourselves suddently on common ground, on some kind of cumplicity, I am more likely to use 'você' with him; but if it happens that we (myself and the very same shop keeper) have to have some conversation about the red line day (I don't know how to say it...) of the yogurts than I think I would - inconsciently -choose to use 'o senhor'.


    But that's me: a little bit formal when not at ease, but dying to be very much informal as soon as (and if) possible. Others certainly have a different aproach. And that means that this is not only about your interlocutor (age, acquaintace, profession,...) but also about you, and the way you want to be regarded (Mr. Noir or that guy Ciel (I'm simplifying it!)) . It's about the implicit 'contract' both people do when engaging in conversation - actually is very common that it becomes explicit sooner or later, and then you have people saying "Podemos tratar-nos por tu", "Não há necessidade de me tratar por 'senhor' ", etc.

    To prove my point, I'll say this: here in the forum, I sometimes use 'você', sometimes 'tu', and sometimes the proper name (actually nickname), with other portuguese members, depending mostly on what I perceive is the way people interact here, how much of (some kind of) self they put in their posts and the way it makes my one self feel at ease and more close / informal or more distant / formal (to me!, at least, wich is OK and normal); and I would even say that in some cases it may, in the end, depend on the specific thread, it's mood, the other guy perceived mood and my particular mood on that occasion.
     

    Carfer

    Senior Member
    Portuguese - Portugal
    Thank you very much for your reply!

    I have used the trick of not explicitly saying 'você' or 'o senhor' when in doubt and instead just using the appropriate form of the verb. The problem is sometimes it's quite awkward to keep avoiding it. To give perhaps a slightly unusual example, if you went to a hairdressers and the person at the counter said, 'Quer que eu corte o seu cabelo ou que a minha colega faça isto?', it would be hard to respond without explicitly saying 'You', as saying 'Pode fazer isto' leaves it unclear as to whether I'm signalling the person I'm speaking to or their colleague. Surely people in Portugal don't just run into awkwardness like this all the time without knowing what to do? Is it perhaps better to just err on the side of caution and say 'o senhor' or 'a senhora'?
    In that case, I would answer 'a senhora'. It's safer as it is more polite. 'Você' is a rather troublesome word, even for a Portuguese native. It's origin is in 'Vossa Mercê' (as in 'Your Lordship/Your Ladyship'), so it was originally a treatment of respect, but it progressively downgraded to an hybrid between the familiar 'tu' and the formal 'senhor/a'. As with all hybrids, it may cause a severe headache to those not acquainted with its use and it's prone to confusions, even for natives (same happens with the modes of addressing judges in England, for example, so it is not a specific Portuguese problem and it also occurs with French ‘vous’ and Spanish ‘usted’). Its use depends not only on how intimate you are with the other person, but on social position and also on the other person expectations as to what he/she thinks is social position is. Intimacy is the reason why you say 'tu' to family and close friends. 'Senhor/a' is for people whom you have to show respect, so you have to address older people, judges, high officers, people in a position of authority in general as well as people of higher social rank or status. No problem with those. Things get messy between those two though. What if the person is your senior, in age or hierarchy, but not that senior? What if he/she has a different view of his/her own position (that is, if he/she expects to be addressed by ‘senhor/a’ and you use ‘você’)? You risk offending the person. So, be cautious and use the more formal mode of addressing. There’s no definite rule about ‘você’ and society is changing fast from a more hierarchical society to a more leveled one and that only compounds the problem because you don’t know what to expect (that’s why I wouldn’t use an explicit ‘você’ with a cab driver, a waiter or a shop attendant. That could imply that I think they are inferior to me and sound arrogant).
     

    Ciel Noir

    Senior Member
    British English
    Thank you both for your very detailed answers! I'd read quite a bit about the Brazilian uses of the word so it's very interesting to see a Portuguese perspective.

    So it seems that 'você' is really hardly ever used in Portugal (in Lisbon, at least, if I'm not mistaken). You mentioned it might be okay for colleagues, but even then it seems to really depend on the individual person and circumstance.

    It's interesting that you draw a parallel with French, because actually I think the rules in French are much, much simpler for when to use 'tu' and 'vous'. I spoke to an older Portuguese person who has been living in the UK for a long time and they said that 'você' was perfectly acceptable, which I don't think is the case anymore. The fact that the hierarchical system has been changing just seems to add to the confusion, but I think I'm a much clearer on the topic now. :)
     

    Carfer

    Senior Member
    Portuguese - Portugal
    So it seems that 'você' is really hardly ever used in Portugal (in Lisbon, at least, if I'm not mistaken). You mentioned it might be okay for colleagues, but even then it seems to really depend on the individual person and circumstance.
    I wouldn't say that. We use it a lot, but then we are natives, we have much more experience and a better understanding of our social environment than a outsider has. What I say is that a foreign person should play safe until he/she has a better grasp of the subtleties and intricacies of the Portuguese way of addressing, mostly by trial and error, of course (the same way that we ourselves learn them, right?). Anyway, I think that aliens tend to put too much emphasis on this particular matter. The Portuguese are generally quite lenient towards outsider's mistakes. A scholar may want to know all the details but, on the pratical side, I think this vexed question is not of much relevance (of course, I'm not implying that you should stop asking questions and details. Please, do)
     

    Ciel Noir

    Senior Member
    British English
    I wouldn't say that. We use it a lot, but then we are natives, we have much more experience and a better understanding of our social environment than a outsider has. What I say is that a foreign person should play safe until he/she has a better grasp of the subtleties and intricacies of the Portuguese way of addressing, mostly by trial and error, of course (the same way that we ourselves learn them, right?). Anyway, I think that aliens tend to put too much emphasis on this particular matter. The Portuguese are generally quite lenient towards outsider's mistakes. A scholar may want to know all the details but, on the pratical side, I think this vexed question is not of much relevance (of course, I'm not implying that you should stop asking questions and details. Please, do)
    Thanks for your explanation. :) I guess the only way to really learn all the nuances is to spend a lot of time in Portugal!
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    To the excellent responses Carfer and Bailica gave, I will reiterate that everybody will be forgiving of your faux pas as long as they realise you're not a native speaker.

    I especially liked Bailica's remark that forms of address can depend on how one wishes to present oneself, sometimes, as much as on how one regards the addressee. I had never thought about it that way but I think it's quite true. For example, when addressing children the normal address is "tu", regardless of whether you know them or how close to them you are (in this my impression differs somewhat from what Carfer said). So it's not because you're familiar with the child, but because you want to present yourself as friendly.

    Another example: students generally address teachers as "o professor", "a professora", I believe, but how teachers address students varies a lot. Some use "tu" (this is more informal), but others use "o/a + first name" or "você" (more formal). This may depend to some extent on the age of the students: children are mostly addressed as "tu", while older teenagers are more likely to be addressed formally than younger teenagers. But it can depend also on the age of the teacher: if it is close to the age of the students, they're more likely to address the students as "tu". And there's also a personal element to it: some teachers are simply more formal individuals, and others more informal. For myself, although I see nothing wrong with addressing my students as "tu" in theory (unless they're by far and large my seniors, which only rarely happens), I've just never felt comfortable doing it.
     
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