25 April 2007

Buongiorno a Lei

Something which has confused me from the start in Italian is the formal way of talking to someone, which we don't use in English.

It's basically constructed in the same way as using the third person. So instead of saying "Hai capito?" you would formally say "Ha capito?".

If someone uses it with me I initially think they are talking to someone else and I look around to see who they're talking to, then realise it's *me*!

Yesterday I had to talk formally to someone. RE-SPEC-T was due you see. OH (showing little faith) said I bet you had problems using Lei aka the formal form, and I said "No, I just pretended I was talking to someone else". That makes it much easier. You look at the person you're talking to, but in your head you're really talking to the person next to him.

Che confusione!

Even after years and years of knowing someone some people still use Lei. In some situations I can understand, for example in a work environment. But I've seen it used within the family, from daughter/son in-law to parents-in-law, which I find hard to understand when many years of marriage have passed by. I know it's to show respect, but I find it distancing and so could limit the kind rapport which will develop...Though when you start off with Lei I could understand it being difficult to change to "tu".

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I see what u mean and I totally agrre with you also considering that to respect people is not a matter of "dare del LEI". One can show respect in many hundred ways. i have heard people arguing and saying many offensive things thus still mutually talking in the third person, which is simply ridiculous!!! But that's part of our Italian culture (if you live in Naples you also know that people tend to talk with "voi" instead of "LEI" which sounds kind of old fashioned!!!). I don't know whether you speak French or have ever been to France but I can assure you that if Italians, for you, do exagerate the French are even strictier about their "courtesy form" (only think that the teens if they don't know each other use "vous"!!!!!!!)
Valy

Delina said...

That's very true about the arguing and still using Lei. In this case I've come to think that it's used more for "distancing" than showing respect because they're certainly not being respectful anymore!

I was going to mention "voi". What I've seen here in Naples is that voi is used to show respect, but on more familiar terms, like with in-laws or friendly older people. Do they really only use it in Naples? Should I forget about "voi" and use only "Lei" in formal situations??!

I don't speak French - well just the bare minimum...It sounds even more complicated! :)

Giulia said...

Yep, we use "voi" out of respect towards the elder around these parts. But, the more fancy shmancy people who speak true Italian (and not a dialect) use "lei" more often.

Cath said...

Just wait until someone uses "loro" - that's really confusing! Someone stopped my husband and I in the street and asked "Loro sanno dov'รจ la chiesa?" It took me a little while to realise they were asking US and when waiters use it I'm afraid it always makes me laugh.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Unless the person is a friend, I start with LEI and then switch to TU if they say "no, no, tu per favore."

What really confuses me is the subjective (ugh!!). I had to repeat Intermediate Italian level 2 and I still don't have it down. Okay, it might help if I lived in a place where it was spoken.

Pola said...

Uhm, I must admit it is tricky for a foreigner, especially if his/her mothertongue does not has a courtesy form. Besides that, being an Italian I really really really appreciate the "Lei" and I always use it, because it add more information to the language, together with the voice and choice of words.

Delina said...

Loro...Subjunctive...Aiuto!

Pola, the formal form does have it's benefits, I agree, but when you're learning the language it just makes it more complicated! One day it will all be clear I'm sure :)

JennDZ said...

You know what is crazy? I have used two different Italian lessons and both of them use Lei all the time. I haven't learned a single conjugation for Tu YET. Roberto keeps telling me that is going to be a problem when we go to Rome, because I will be hearing TU more often because we will be with family...I am going to sound all hoity-toity I guess! ack!

Anonymous said...

Actually in English we do have a formal form - it's just not a grammatical thing.

For example, if I encountered an old man who I didn't know back in the US I would usually say "sir" and be very polite. With a younger person I'd use a different level of formality and no "sir". It may actually be more difficult for foreigners to use the formal form in English.

When I lived in Texas briefly I used to love the word "y'all" and it's variant "all y'all" (which is something like "loro" in Italian I think).

kataroma

Anonymous said...

i always use the formal (lei) as I get too confused trying to distinguish between who is a tu and who a lei. When i first started using it though, i particualrly felt awkward talking to males. Felt like i was saying 'and how is SHE today' ie some other random invisible third (female) person. V weird. Now it's OK but i often get told i'm too formal. Better than being told OFF for being informal I guess.

Today I bought an aranchino and the young girl serving me said ciao instead of arrivederci. I felt v offended - just ebcause I look a. foreign and b. young and c.wear casual clothes doesn't mean she should ciao me!!

Shirley said...

Its a bit like the 'kissing thing', at what stage in the relationship with someone do you start greeting with a kiss instead of a handshake! I always get very confused and have had a few embarrasing situations!

Delina said...

"just because I look a. foreign and b. young and c.wear casual clothes doesn't mean she should ciao me!!"

:D Don't ciao me! I like that.


Shirley, the kissing thing is hard too, agreed.

BecsLifeOnline said...

Wow - that sounds quite confusing! Is this true for all of Italy or is it unique to certain parts? I'll have to remember this when I start my lessons!

Alyson said...

My landlady does the "kissing thing" with me! I was quite surprised. But then alot of my english friends have started to as well.

My sister calls her english M-I-L Mrs.... after knowing her over 50 years! Maybe this is our equivalent?

Tracie B. said...

ah but in napoli, there's also the "voi!" as in, come state? i just pretend that i've had one too many cocktails and i'm seeing double :)

Mary said...

Ciao...hehehe! Sorry to anon who doesn't like "being ciaoed"...I must have offended SO many people...

I totally agree about the Lei form confusion. I like the idea of imagining that you're talking about someone else - that'd make it much easier. What I have the biggest problem with is when you have to say "to you" and just "you" as in "Le mando una lettera" and when do you use the "Glie" thingy...whats it called (is that the masculine one?) and then you say "ArrividerLa" (apparently it's actually informal to say "Arrividerci") so does "Le" mean "to you" and does "La" just mean "you"??
Also in letters, when referring to you plural do you use "Voi" or "Loro"? And do you still put capital letters or is that not done anymore? CONFUSING!!