Thursday, July 7, 2011

Formal "SIE," or informal "DU?"

A Formal Choice for Tourists SpiegelOnline June 30 2011
GOOGLE IMAGES of OBERSTAUFEN, in Bavaria (near Austria)

There's Plenty to Sie and Du in Bavarian Village

A tourist office in a Bavarian village plans to offer German-speaking visitors the choice of being addressed by the formal "Sie" or the informal "du" form. Tourists can vote with their feet by going to the right counter. Is this a sign that the language's rigid rules on the matter are starting to be relaxed?

Germans are renowned for their stiff formality and politeness when addressing people they aren't too familiar with -- and perhaps nowhere more so than in conservative Bavaria.

But that could all change thanks to the efforts of one village to find out whether German-speaking visitors prefer using the formal "Sie" to address others, or the more familiar "du." In the coming weeks, two counters -- one for those wishing to use "Sie" and one for "du" -- will be set up in the tourist office in Oberstaufen. Holidaymakers will be able to vote with their feet until September.

"I'm excited to see how people react and what the majority decides," said Oberstaufen tourism boss Bianca Keybach. "Depending on the outcome, we will consider whether to address our guests generally by "du" in the future."

Traditionally, "du" is used for children, animals and God, as well as between adults who are good friends or are closely related; "Sie" is used in most other cases. But the rigidity of the rule -- not so long ago, addressing a policeman as "du" could land you in hot water -- has declined over recent years.

It is not the first time that Oberstaufen, a village in the Allgäu region close to the Austrian border, has hit the headlines in recent years. Whereas many towns and communities across Germany kicked up a fuss over Google's Street View service and its supposed invasion of privacy, the inhabitants of Oberstaufen invited the Internet giant to their village, and on Nov. 2, 2010 it officially became the first place in the country for which Street View was made available.

--> Which would be your choice as a tourist? Would you as a visitor like to be shown the respect (and distance) that a formal response provides? Or would you prefer to be lumped into the same linguistic camp as is used with little kids, pets, and friends?

--> Can you see the advantages to each?

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