Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Polite or not polite, that is the question

In most languages I know there is a distinctive difference between 'you' (when speaking to children and peers) and 'You' (when speaking to someone of higher rank, age or a stranger). In French it would be tu and vous, in German du and Sie, in Dutch jij and u. In English there is no such distinction, unless you count the (very) old fashioned thou. Anyway, this is about the Dutch versions.

When I was a little girl, I was taught by my parents to say 'You' (keeping it a bit simpler here) to anyone older or unknown. This meant saying it to my parents, grandparents, teachers and strangers. During my teens I was the last of the three of us (me, brother, sister) to start saying 'you' to my parents. It just didn't feel respectful. And even now I occasionally have problems saying 'you' to people that are older, even when told to do so.

The thing that really bugs me though, is children nowadays. Everyone and their aunt is treated to 'you' in a way that makes me feel really grumpy. What is the problem with teaching children a little respect for other people. Get them to say 'You' first and it can always change to 'you' later.

People who say that everyone is equal and should be treated that way are lying. Not everyone is equal. You don't call the Pope 'Benny', you don't call the President of the US 'George' or the Queen of England 'Betty'. So let's get back to basics: teach your children how to be polite and respectful and I promise you: the world will become a better place!

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