How to address someone in another Language | Elisa Baelus

Doing #business in a multilingual context is about more than just mastering different #languages. In successfully #communicating with a foreign business partner, colleague, or client, you also need to know how to #navigate between cultures. This can be really crucial in negotiations, where different countries might have different ideas on how to conduct them, and people might be insulted if you –unknowingly– cross a line. But sometimes, these cultural differences display themselves in languages in a very common, but delicate issue: the proper way of addressing someone.

#English is delightfully straightforward in this matter: just use you, throw in ‘would you’ and ‘could you’, don’t forget to say please and thank you, and you’re good to go. #French and #Italian on the other hand… man, are those tricky! While both #France and #Italy are known as warm and welcoming cultures, in certain situations it is of paramount importance to adhere to rules of politeness. If you go to #university in Italy, for instance, and you need to talk to a professor, you better use the überpolite Lei and so many conditional tenses that you end up feeling like every Italian word ends in ‘ebbe’ rather than ‘o’ or ‘a’ as the cliché would have it (in my first year at uni, some of my fellow students and I would during impromptu interrogations in Italian class, for want of the correct word, make up random words and add ‘o’ or ‘a’ – needless to mention that we sometimes drove our poor professor to desperation).

To play it safe the best thing to do would be to always use the polite form, but sometimes that just won’t cut it. In some situations, for example if the speaker is about the same age as you, that would just be awkward. There really is no hard and fast rule, so you just have to follow your gut and try not to step on any toes.

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