Essay from the year 1999 in the subject German Studies - Linguistics, grade: very good, University of Nottingham (English Studies), 10 entries in the bibliography, language: English, abstract: 'I by mistake addressed my biology teacher with Du, and he asked me if earlier we had been fattening the pigs in the pigsty together.' 1(Informant Q) 'There is a grey zone in which a speaker may not know whether to use du or Sie, and in that case it is always safer to use Sie. A young girl, very tall for her age, would probably feel flattered to be addressed as Sie, whereas a short, undersized young woman would be embarrassed at being addressed with du.' (Hammond 1981: 190) '(...) you should not use du to a person with whom you are not familiar. A woman should not use du to a man she doesn't know well, although she may, of course, deliberately use the du form to him, if she cares to. (...) The Germans have their problems with du and Sie.' (Strutz 1986: 84) The Germans, or, to be more precise, Germanspeaking people do have problems indeed with choosing the appropriate form of address. In most cases, it is a question of politeness to use the more formal 'Sie' to people you do not know very well, especially if they are older than you. There are, however, many instances, where the 'Sie' is felt to be rather inappropriate and may even make the addressed feel very uncomfortable. Especially younger people can find it rather irritating to be addressed with 'Sie', in particular when the addresser is about the same age or an acquaintance. To switch from polite 'Sie' to more casual 'Du' is most of the time a daring enterprise for the speakers involved, whereas to switch from 'Du' to 'Sie' almost seems impossible, at least without causing major irritation.
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