This week in French class we explored the cultural nuances of you. No, not you, you silly narcissist, but "you," the always-fascinating second-person singular/plural personal pronoun as it appears in français. We're talking the informal "tu" and formal "vous" forms.
In English, "you" is so easy. We use the same word whether we're talking to a toddler who's just dumped a load in his diaper or to our boss who may be even more full of shit.
In French, not so easy. When speaking to someone you're just beginning to know, whether you choose to use the informal "tu" or formal "vous" can make the difference between being snubbed or accepted, or between getting laid or deported.
Our class of international students (Brazil, Portugal, Egypt, Germany, Venezuela, Congo, Lebanon, Vietnam, and a couple other countries I forget) discussed all this with our teacher, Nathalie, who, by the way, could read a sewer cleaning manual in French and make it sound like music. Some of us described the varying levels of language formality in our own countries, and Nathalie explained that, in Suisse-Romande (French-speaking Switzerland), one can say (translating) "hi" (salut) to a friend, but only "hello" (bonjour) to someone with whom you're not friends. We didn't get around to discussing how to give the finger to a respected colleague.
We ended our discussion by voting on whether we would all like to use "tu" or "vous" with each other. It was unanimous, but, thank goodness, we stopped short of a group hug.