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Jun 14, 2006, 7:09 PM

Post #1 of 10 (9616 views)


Use of familiar vs formal

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I am a sixtiesh female and unclear on when to use familiar and when formal. For instance, I am in a shop and speaking to the shopkeeper or owner, would I use familiar or formal? Would it depend on their age? How about a young or older women at the hotel check-in desk? Or the waiter in a restaurant? Or casual converstations walking about? Would appreciate some guidelines here. The only thing I'm pretty sure about is to address children in the familiar. Thanks.


Jun 14, 2006, 8:07 PM

Post #2 of 10 (9607 views)


Re: [yclarke123] Question on the question

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We've discussed the Spanish formal-informal issue several times here.

I'd like to explore an idea. In English, if you address a person by his/her first name, would that be similar to an informal tú? If not, if a last name or a Mr., Mrs. or Miss is to be applied, would that be the same as a formal usted? Those proficient in both languages may give us a clue to these questions.

Saludos cordiales,



Jun 14, 2006, 8:14 PM

Post #3 of 10 (9602 views)


Re: [yclarke123] Use of familiar vs formal

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Here's a good rule of thumb: address anyone you don't know by usted. Usted is respectful and dignified and you can't go wrong. Children and animals are the exceptions to this rule; you may call them with impunity.

Example: I recently contracted with a man to do some remodeling and other work in my house. He worked here for long hours every day during several weeks and at the beginning, we always called one another 'usted', even though each of us soon began to feel quite trusting of the other. After a few weeks, he slipped and called me 'tú'. Rather than apologize, he said, " does not show a lack of respect, and I hope you will also call me . By calling one another , we actually show more respect for one another, because it shows our mutual trust and friendship." In this situation, he was exactly right.

Another example: Before I knew Spanish very well, I was chatting with a woman who was much older than I and in a position of considerable authority. I asked her something that included the word 'contigo'. I saw her face and body stiffen with shock and I didn't really know why; it took several months before I understood that I had committed a grave offense by mistakenly using the form with her.

(This post was edited by esperanza on Jun 14, 2006, 8:16 PM)

Judy in Ags

Jun 14, 2006, 8:36 PM

Post #4 of 10 (9596 views)


Re: [quevedo] Question on the question

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When we made our exploratory trip to Mexico (see: we became friends with a whole family (a couple our age and their 11 children, spouses, etc.) Within days They requested that we use the "tu" form with them.

(This post was edited by Judy in Ags on Jun 14, 2006, 8:37 PM)


Jun 15, 2006, 12:26 PM

Post #5 of 10 (9572 views)


Re: [quevedo] Question on the question

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[In English, if you address a person by his/her first name, would that be similar to an informal tú? If not, if a last name or a Mr., Mrs. or Miss is to be applied, would that be the same as a formal usted?]

Sí, Estimado Sr. Quevedo, es más o menos lo mismo en inglés. En adición hay otra forma que significa respeto con familiaridad, asi "Miss Jane" (es común en el sur de los EE.UU.).



Jun 15, 2006, 4:06 PM

Post #6 of 10 (9563 views)


Re: [misslyn] Good!

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So now we have a working platform to explain and usted to American and Canadian English speakers.

I wonder if this applies to other Englishers as well.

Gracias y saludos,



Jun 15, 2006, 7:13 PM

Post #7 of 10 (9551 views)


Re: [quevedo] Good!

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I think the problem that prevents a direct correlation between spanish usted/tu usage with english (in particular north american english) is cultural. For example, I automatically feel more at ease in situations as interactions become more informal and familiar... an example is at work where those in higher positions get points for being easy going and familiar with employees further down the hierarchy from them. Using 'Mr. So and So' would sound a bit antiquated in many situations whereas in Mexico a 'tu' in place of 'usted' and or a first name in place of 'Sr. So and So' would be looked upon as very bad manners if not outright insubordination.

While informality puts me at ease when interacting with a new aquaintance or superior, I have observed that it's formality that puts a Mexican in an equivalent situation at ease. So sometimes, with someone I don't know well and who my natural friendly behavior would be a joke or some other familiarity... with a Mexican I might make a pointed effort to sprinkle the conversation with more reserved manners and usted verb forms until I know them better.

So I think there's no good substitute for recognizing some differences in between us.. the feelings are the same, but the triggers for those feelings are sometimes different.

(This post was edited by DoDi2 on Jun 15, 2006, 7:21 PM)


Jun 15, 2006, 11:03 PM

Post #8 of 10 (9533 views)


Re: [DoDi2] Good!

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I agree with DoDi, I was holding my opinion as I know my spanish is sub-par. My cultural awareness is pretty good though and in situations that I would expect a first name in the US, I do not think tu or a first name would fly well in Mexico.

My parents generation, depression/WWII, were more formal and my mother would never allow a child or friend my age to call her by her first name. In fact, allowing her first name to be used was something that only happened with her peers and then only after a period of acquaintence. I cannot recall her ever having an employee that called her by her first name no matter how long they had worked for her. She was insulted when someone presumed to use it.

My generation, hippies most of us, were quick to use first names and that change has spread throughout US society. It is rare when asking someone's name for them to respond with Mr/Mrs XX.

My feel is that Mexico is somewhere in between, not as formal as my parents generation (except of course those in Mexico who are of the same generation) but not as informal as the US. It seems to me that young people in Mexico are very quick to tutear and like young people in the US do not require a lot of formality. Those of my generation in Mexico are more relaxed than their parents but haven't given up the formal address.

I tend to use Ud always until someone invites me to use tu mainly because I don't think I am good at deciding on the fly so it is easier. A hard one for me is someone who works for me, a maid or gardner. I don't want to presume on the power difference in the relationship so I use Ud and generally their first name. I have had a maid tell me to use tu but then I noticed that she was still using Ud with me. I didn't know what to do. Still don't. Or... I have a gardner here in the US that is from Mexico. He speaks excellent english but I often speak spanish to him because I need the practice. So, I speak spanish, he answers in english and thus I have no clue on which to use. We've now got a little more personal relationship in that he tells me about his family and his boyfriend and I talk about our travels in Mexico. Now, I really don't know which to use. I do know the answer to this, I should just ask him. My feeling about asking though is that the cultural thing comes into play and they will give you the answer that seems the most polite so I would expect that, if asked, most would say to use tu.

Jonna - Mérida, Yucatán


Jun 22, 2006, 9:24 AM

Post #9 of 10 (9460 views)


Re: [sfmacaws] Good!

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One thing not mentioned so far is that us older folk with white hair and wrinkles can usually get away with using tú with almost everybody---except someone older than us. I wouldn't use it with the President of Mexico or the Governor of my state, but with almost anybody else there will be no shock whatsoever.

Strangers, and even family members on the other hand would never think of using tú to us older folk however. Us older folk are always addressed as Usted, unless the relationship is one of real bondage, and even then the Usted will be more natural on their part.

I am continually amazed, even after 18 years in Mexico, to hear adult sons and daughters of 30 years or more address their mothers as tú but their fathers as Usted. This aint a cultural thing. This is a matter of respect to show the "jefe" that he is still jefe.

Also, has anyone else ever seen an adult male of 40 years respectfully kiss the back of the hand of his father after a month's absence? I was expecting the "äbrazo" but that didn't take place until after the "beso".

This formality versus informality can be tricky indeed. Esperanza's advice to use usted until asked to tutear is very good advice. Still, my own advice is that if your are an old codger/ess don't really worry about it. Just speak Spanish and enjoy!

Adios. jerezano.


Jun 22, 2006, 1:09 PM

Post #10 of 10 (9445 views)


Re: [jerezano] Good!

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I like that Jerezano, I'm going to rely on my codgeress state!

I did ask the gardner before we left Cat City and, as I expected, he said of course I should use tu but that the "correct answer" would be to use it with anyone younger than I. Since he is a lot younger than I am, I think he was saying I could use it with him but he would have waited for my request.

Jonna - Mérida, Yucatán

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