Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A rose by any other name

...would smell as sweet.

Well I think that's the gist of the quote from Romeo & Juliet anyway (who'd have thought I'd still remember my O Level Eng Lit texts so many years after the event - my teachers would be proud)

The Germans are a formal lot when it comes to names, they're big into the Herr this and Frau that - that's Mr and Mrs to you non linguists (which is fine when you're at the doctors/dentists/garage etc but neighbours or parents of your children's friends?) I'd only just got used to being addressed as Mrs Evans in the UK (and that was after almost 20 years of marriage) without looking around to see why the real Mrs E (ie the mother in law) was following me about!

I guess the Herr and Frau thing is exacerbated (in my mind at least) by the fact that in the German language there is also a formal 'you' = Sie, for use with people you don't know or with people who are more senior than you (in the work place senario)
I have a real mental block with this, I think it's because I was told that Germans use the formal 'Sie' until they invite the other to use the informal 'du', consequently I'm almost scared to use 'du' with people (it's also easier, conjugation-wise, using Sie instead of du...) I don't want to seem like an impertinent foreigner.

Simon works for a German company here (which is why we moved to Germany) He's worked for them ever since leaving Uni and has worked his way up through the company, he got to know most of his contacts in Germany whilst working for the UK daughter company with the UK 'rules' for addressing people (first name terms with everyone) but now he works in the German parent and is somehow managing to twist the Sie/du rules to fit him...
  • he calls everyone by their first names & gets the same in return
  • his secretary calls him Herr Evans when there's other people present, but Simon when there's no-one else there
  • in a meeting recently he was addressed as Simon face to face but then referred back to as 'Herr Evans'
Even when Germans have known and worked with each other for years they still sometimes address each other formally, maybe it's a hierarchical thing?

A friend who works for the same company as Simon is recently back in Germany after working for 5 years in Canada, he must be in a worse position than Simon, having been used to the formality of Germany then to go to the relaxed environment in Canada and then to return to formality...

A couple of odd things I want to mention, because they amuse me..
  • telephone etiquette here is when answering your ringing phone you bellow (that's how it appears anyway) you surname at the caller, and likewise when you ring someone and they answer you should bellow your name - I refuse, so instead of shouting 'Evans' into the phone, I say 'hello?' in a very English manner
  • Si got a call from our dentist on his mobile wanting to speak to me, she asked in English (didn't even know she could speak English...) 'can I speak to your woman?' (the word 'frau' translates as 'mrs' and 'lady/woman/wife' - I found this very funny, I love it when Germans cockup their English!)

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