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How would someone ask to be addressed informally?

As I'm sure everybody reading this knows, you can address people in German as "du" or "Sie", with "du" being informal and "Sie" being formal. I've heard that the younger generation in Germany these days tend to always use "du". But my question really is is how to change how people address you.

Let's say you've gone to Germany to live and you've met a boy or a girl and he or she takes you home to meet his or her parents (this is going to get exhausting, I'm going to assume it's a girl from now on for the sake of convenience). You meet her parents and, given that it's the awkward "hey, I'm dating your daughter" first meeting, you're polite and address them as "Sie". But let's say that they're cool, friendly, modern parents, and they want you to feel at ease and not to feel intimidated in any way, and would prefer that you address them as "du".

My question is - is there a standard way that this would be done? Is there some kind of stock sentence or a common turn of phrase (like, maybe, the English "hello, Mr. Taylor", "Harold, please. Mr. Taylor was my father's name")? I imagine that it can't be an entirely uncommon occurrence. I could even imagine it being something of a rite of passage, say, for a young man working his way up a small firm - the day his boss is okay being addressed as "du" rather than "Sie". And I can even imagine that it happens the other way round, where someone who's a bit too cocky addresses someone as "du" and that person feels disrespected and tells them to address them as "Sie".

Are there any particular idioms associated with such things?

December 8, 2014



These sentences are not as uncommon as you may think. In languages where you have both formal and informal registers (German and Spanish), sometimes you just have to ask/tell people what to use. (I sometimes ask my younger patients if they'd rather be treated formally or informally, and sometimes I tell my elders to not treat me with such formalities!)

Ach bitte, Sie können gerne du/Anne zu mir sagen

Is a good option and acceptable. But most commonly, it would be "Ach bitte, du kannst/darfst gerne du zu mir sagen", because when people allow you to treat them like that, most of the time they will do the same to you. The only scenario I can imagine where this would not happen, is the following: Person A and B are talking to each other with the formal register, but A feels odd when being treated that way, so he allows B to use the informal one, but still has too much respect or wants to keep the distance, so that A continues to use the formal register towards B. This would usually happen if person A is a young person and B is an older one. Elder people usually just take the right to go all informal on you without asking, but some very distant people may not, I guess. Anyway, what I'm saying is, if your mother in law asks you to treat her with the informal you, she will most likely be doing the same with you already.

Now, to the important part. The sentence above is not the only option you have. In Germany, two common verbs are "duzen" and "siezen" (make sure you pronounce the Z right) and they are used like this:

  • Du darfst mich einfach duzen/ Duz' mich einfach = You can simply/just treat me with the informal 'you'

  • Bitte siezen Sie mich wenn Sie mich ansprechen = Please, use the formal 'you' when you speak to me

  • Soll ich meine Schwiegermutter siezen oder duzen? = Should I address my mother in law with the formal or the informal you? (As in, you're asking your girlfriend for advice)

  • Soll ich Sie siezen oder duzen? = Should I address you (formal) with the formal you or informal one? Beware. This is just an example and it's probably never a good idea to use this particular sentence. If you work in healthcare and encounter a younger-than-you patient, you can use it because you just want to make them feel comfortable BUT if you are unsure how to address the person you are currently speaking to, you should always play it safe and go for the formal you. Asking this sentence is quite bold because you are doubting the other persons "superiority" or respect.

I personally use duzen a lot more than the sentence suggested in that other thread! In fact, last time I checked, the German people I know use this more!

I really hope this isn't too confusing.

December 8, 2014


That's awesome, thanks. I think "siezen" and "duzen" are my newest favourite verbs.

December 9, 2014


A rather lengthy but very well-done post here on the use of Sie and du. It includes how to offer du instead of Sie (you never tell someone to address you as du as these forms of address are usually mutual and the other may not want to be a du just yet, rather you offer it to them and they can choose to accept or not)

December 8, 2014


Thanks. This bit is the answer I was after: "Ach bitte, Sie können gerne du/Anne zu mir sagen"

December 8, 2014


There aren't any simple rules. For example, when meeting one of my old school friends for the first time after twenty years, my mother has been known to ask them whether they mind if she continues to address them with du as it appeared more natural. And this was not a receprocal du, but the asymmetrical one between the older generation and children, extended to 60-/40-year-olds.

On the other hand, some of my former colleagues in a very rural area took these things extremely seriously and even had conversations of a type that I previously thought could happen only in places like Japan or Korea: "A has been my colleague for over thirty years, and by now it feels very unnatural to use Sie. But I have no idea whether she is older or younger than I am, so I don't know whether it's proper for me to propose switching to du." Hearing this caused a bit of a culture shock for me, though I am a native German. I also found it annoying that I had to remember with which of the dozens of new colleagues I was on which terms.

I often end up not directly addressing people at all because it feels wrong either way.

So don't worry too much if it gets a bit awkward occasionally. It's a defect of the German language in this intermediate stage, while Sie is slowly dying out, and even a lot of native speakers suffer. In a sense it's easier for non-native speakers as they are more likely to be forgiven when they get it wrong. Some non-native speakers (especially workers) even use du with everyone, and no sane person is offended when this is delivered in somewhat broken German.

December 11, 2014


It's very much like in English where you might know your girlfriend's mother as Mrs Smith and she says at some point "Oh, please just call me Jane!", it's pretty much the same thing. In German Du usually implies a level of familiarity with someone such as a neighbour or work colleague whereas if you were going on a date say you could agree straight off that you'd rather Du each other. In other words, if you're meeting someone as an equal its much more common to be informal. My advice is don't ever assume anything. You can suggest that they can just call you by your first name or Du but let the native speaker decide when you can change how you address them. Generally if they Du you, you can Du them...

As for sentences I'd go with what other posts have said, they cover pretty much everything.

December 9, 2014


[...]if you were going on a date say you could agree straight off that you'd rather Du each other.

In my experience, women usually make you wait a few dates for that.

December 9, 2014


In this case I would adress the parents formal because it's more polite. If the parents want you to call them "du" they will tell you, because normally the older person asks the younger person if it is be ok to adress each other with "du".

And the "younger generation" uses "Sie", too when talking to other people they don't really know.

But when you're adressing people that are clearly younger than 18, it's common to say "du" to them because they're still children.

December 11, 2014
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