Tuesday 8 July 2008
Lei...Tu? Why can't we just say YOU?
My Italian is improving by the day but that does not mean I have reached adult level yet. I saw Indiana Jones at the movies the other week and managed to understand most of it (ok, so what if it was not difficult?) so I think that I am perhaps on level with an 8 year old at the moment. Ok, perhaps a slow 7 year old is more like it. (How long do I have to wait to speak like a 29 year old??? Che palle!)
One thing my slow 7 year old Italian mind cannot cope with is Lei - the polite version of tu or you. I know that lei is like speaking in the 3rd person but for some reason my mind cannot hold a conversation with someone using lei. I often start out ok 'lei come sta?' but then when the conversation gets going I forget about my lei altogether and switch into tu without having been invited to do so.
Yes. In Italy there is a fine line between lei and tu. One is meant to use the polite form of lei for older people, people higher then you in a work place or people whom you have never met before. Tu is for people younger then you, and family and friends who you are friendly with. My problem is that I am never, ever sure when to use which.
If I meet a hotel director and he is half my age (impossible but you get my point) then I guess I am meant to use lei as he is higher then me, but then he is younger then me at the same time. When I call my hotels and speak to the reservations department I think we are on the same level so I think I should use tu...but then I don't want to cause offence. If I am meeting bel ragazzo's family or friends then I guess I should use lei but I am his fidanzata so can I not steal his right to use the word tu?
My solution: Don't use anything at all.
I am furba so normally I try to speak without using the word YOU or if that fails I wait for them to say something indicating our 'friendliness.' No more come stai or come sta for me - I greet people by saying 'tutto ok?' If I need something, like a pen, I say 'c'e una penna?' Furba...Sly hey?! I don't ask if you have a pen, I say is there a pen! It's great...if I remember my slyness that is.
Of course I know that it does not really matter as I am a foreigner and my right as a foreigner is to be able to say TU to everyone and they will not take offence as I (poor me) can not speak the language (gosh, I still can't use anything but the most simple form of past tense! Do NOT get me started on Italian grammer.) Bel ragazzo kindly reminds me that people know I am a foreigner and cannot speak very good Italian. He says once I speak Italian near perfectly then people will not be so forgiving with the misuse of lei
...but hey I'm only a slow 7 year old at the moment in Italy so I have a long, long way to go.