Feb. 1st, 2016

Tu e Lei

Feb. 1st, 2016 01:44 pm
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I think I'm finally getting the hang of Italian formal-versus-friendly address. It took me a while, because it's not really similar to French, where all you do for formality is flip to the plural you (analogous to thee versus you before English dropped that whole thing).

In Italian, when you're talking to someone respectfully, you use Lei, which is "she" except capitalized (obviously you can't hear the capital letter). Essentially, you are addressing them as "Milady" regardless of gender. ("Milady may do as Milady wishes" instead of "you can do what you want.") I've been around it enough now that it's normal, but when I first came over, it was confusing when a waiter would address my dad as Lei. What was going on? Were they asking him to answer for me? (No.)

That's not the hard bit, though. The hard bit is that when you're telling someone to do something, using third person singular (the Lei one) seems to mean maybe you're pissed off, or at the very least you feel you have a right to boss them around. Using second person singular, on the other hand, is polite. This is the reverse of what you're doing the entire rest of the time, where you talk to your buddies using "you" and maintain a formal distance with "Milady."

As far as I can tell, it's because when I'm telling you to do something, if we're not close, I need to be clear that I'm asking "as a friend" and it's totally your discretion. Scusi, excuse me my friend I bumped into on the sidewalk, friendly friendly, of course it's up to you whether you mind or not, but since we are both friends even though we're total strangers probably it's fine. There's a "please" implied, I guess.

Whereas if I'm your spouse or parent or something, fkin do the thing. Lady clean your room I am not telling you again.

That's how it seems to me, anyway. I may still be getting it wrong.

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