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Do you even vouvoyer, bro?

It’s one of those tricky things about French that doesn’t automatically become easy just because you study and learn the grammar. The battle between vous and tu is dependent on social factors as well: what’s your social standing? What’s the social standing of the person you’re talking to? How does yours compare with theirs? What’s the context, and how do you feel about that person?

In celebration of French “Ain’t-Goin’-Back-to-Lockup Day” (Bastille Day), the LA Times was kind enough to provide us anglophones with a handy flowchart to help decide whether to use vous or tu:

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 3.26.32 PM

See a much more readable version at http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-og-bastile-vous-tu-20140711-htmlstory.html.

As many comments on that site are quick to point out, things are always more complex than they seem, so this flow chart won’t cover every situation or region. As for the author of this post, I learned French in the south Pacific, especially out in the bush of New Caledonia. There, you use vous to address the police and multiple people, and tu for everyone else; I once tried to vouvoyer an old native man, and he stared at me like I was crazy and asked, “À qui tu parles? J’ai une souris dans ma poche ou quoi?” (No, that is not standard metropolitan French).

Still, check out the chart for the basics, read the comments for fun facts and anecdotes, and keep on learning.

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