Mar 19 2009

Can I call you you?

by at 8:45 pm

Today I was on the phone with a graphic designer I had not spoken to before. We were speaking a mix of English and French, planning our meeting tomorrow, and talking about the project. Near the end of the conversation we had this exchange:

Him (hesitantly): ehh… est-ce que je peux tutoyer?
Me: excusez-moi… ?
Him (apologetically): je peux tutoyer?
Me: I’m sorry, I’m not understanding you…
Him: It is … okay… if I call you by “tu”?
Me (laughing, trying to reassure him): Yes! Oui ! bien sûr! No problem!

The explanation: he was, it seems, quite politely inquiring as to my pronoun.  Not in striking a blow against the gender binary sense, alas, but because he wanted to make sure he could address me with the informal pronoun tu rather than having to stick with the formal vous. French even has two verbs for this—tutoyer and vouvoyer.

In retrospect, I had probably been calling him vous because that’s what I was mostly taught to do in high school and that threw him off. But I’m a generation younger than him—maybe I should be calling him vous! According to this article from a few years back the use of tu vs. vous has been something of a political issue since the French revolution. Woah. Way longer than non-gender normative pronouns have existed (I think)!

In other news, there’s apparently a major outbreak of measles on campus. Yuck. Don’t worry, I’ve been vaccinated (twice).

P.S. Did you know English has an informal version of you? It’s thou.

One response so far

One Response to “Can I call you you?”

  1. Joelon 20 Mar 2009 at 5:34 pm

    Anyone who’s seen Oliver Stone’s Nixon knows about thou. It was all the rage among Quakers like Nixon’s parents. For more info on tu vs. vous and equivalents in other languages, see

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