Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Un soupçon de politesse belge

R.J. Stove compares old world politeness to crass modernity. To quote:
They really do order these things better in Belgium. When you write to Madame la Directrice at a Brussels library, you are meant to address her in correspondence — and even in preliminary conversation, should you achieve the latter — as Madame la Directrice rather than as ‘Suze’. Monsieur and Madame are terms heard every day in the most casual greetings. Bonjour, monsieur, you are expected to say to the white-haired, uniformed hotel porter. Bonjour, madame, to the cleaning-lady. It solves the perpetual ambiguity created by Anglo-Australian slumming.... And it actually speeds up the wheels of communication. No mean feat in a country torn by linguistic disputes.


Brantigny said...

Whe my Genevieve left for France, I gave her a coupl bits of advice, father to daughter. One of them was, never address a person using the familure "tu" with anyone unless that person gives you permission, because once it is used you can never go back. Upon her return she related that while the other stdents living at Madame Breteau's house she was the only one who Madame regarded as being properly brought up.

It allowed madame to open up to Genny in ways that the othes missed. Genny was invited to take tea, and discuss Madame's anscestors, including Henri de le Rochejacquelein, while drinking tea from a pot owned by him.

Courtesy is something children are not taught anymore. Now any courtey is seen as being phoney, which it is unless it is taught and the person who is being courtious is seen to have been doing this all along, otherwise it is just posing. Does that make sense? Genny knew who he was which didn't hurt either.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

Generally speaking, as of ordinarily, I might agree.

But in Sweden we are not brought up with it. And catching on when living first with nice people who "tutoye" you and next with people who "monsieur" you and are not nice is not very easy at age 41.

R J said...

Thanks for the linkage to my piece!

I see from a recent essay in The Economist that the Swedish language (something which I certainly didn't know) used to have not two but three forms of direct address: "du signalled intimacy and ni meant distance while a polite third-person form, using the equivalents of 'Sir' and 'Madam', often coupled with job titles, was used for politeness and in public. ... In 1969 the Swedish Social Democrat prime minister, Olof Palme, instructed reporters to use du when asking him questions. Though some nostalgic Swedes have tried to revive the ni form, for example in advertisements stressing ultra-courteous customer service, du and its equivalents are now all but universal across the Nordic countries, to the lingering dismay of the well brought-up. The third-person form survives only in rare cases, such as in addressing royalty and in public sessions of the Swedish parliament."

Here is a link to the whole article:


elena maria vidal said...

Very interesting. Thanks to you all for your feedback. Great article, R.J.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

R J, that is true, but I was born when Olof Palme did his work.