I've been seeing my physical therapist, my kinésithérapeute, for about two months now. 10 half-hour sessions of mini-massages and chatting about anything and everything: my back injury, good restaurants in the area, my job, how she became a kiné etc etc etc. Bien sur, we vouvoyer each other - in other words, we use the formal "you": Le "vous".
The vous form of "you" shows respect, distance and formality. You use it with elders, people who you don't know, clients, bosses, and people who are further up the hierarchy in general. Sometimes (often actually) even people of the same family use the vous, or for example, a doctor and a patient. It's the done thing - ça se fait comme ça.
I've always had a respect problem - just ask my mom and dad. I was the kid, who at 12 years old, talked about how adults need to earn respect and how just because they were older didn't mean I had to respect them. No one is due respect, it always has to be earned. I guess I still agree with 12 year-old me, and I still have trouble with the French institutions of respect. I find them nul, studpide, archaïque and above all, hypocrite.
You can despise someone with all your might and still have to use the vous with them. To make matters worse, they may be allowed to use the tu - the informal you- with you, and depending on the situation, you may still have to use the vous with them! Ridicule, I know.
In any case, I have a huge bone to pick with the vous - I'm sure it's a futile bone, but I just can't help but be unnerved by the whole thing. Which brings me back to my kiné session this evening...
I was lying on the table while my kiné stuck electrodes on my back. We started talking about my general practitioner, then about back surgery, and then, out of nowhere, I said: "vous savez, vous pouvez me tutoyer, si vous voulez" -"you know, you can use the tu with me, if you'd like."
I immediately wished I hadn't offered at all. She was visibly embarrassed that I had suggested it and told me that it was hard for her to use the tu with her patients. I told her that I understood and that it was no big deal if she preferred to use the vous, but that if it was easier for her, I just wanted her to know that I was okay with it. You see, here is the other thing about the vous - it is always the person in the position of power who can suggest that you drop the act and use the tu. For example: an elder can tell a young person that it's okay to use tu / a teacher can tell a student it's okay / a boss can tell an employee - but never the other way around. I knew that since I was the patient, the client, if you will, that it was up to me to tell her that it was okay. I didn't suggest that I would then use the tu back to her - but it is usually implied that when one person offers, both people use the tu.
She told me that she could try but that it would be difficult and that she was "touchée" - touched- that I would offer. I reiterated that it really was not a problem if she preferred not to, but then I also explained that I felt pretty ridiculous using the vous with her, seeing as how we are both young women who are pretty much the same age - it felt like a false air of formality that really wasn't necessary.
We'll see how my next session on Thursday goes; I'll be obligated to use the vous with her until she lets go of her obligation to French forms of respect and realizes that it's cool, she can use the tu with me and I won't think any less of her or think that we are close friends or lose any level of respect for her expertise. She can still be the kiné and I can still be la patiente and we can use the freakin tu for goodness sakes.
For my Frenchie readers - did I completely cross the line? Was it weird to offer to use the tu seeing as how I see her twice a week and we are the same age?! Au secours!