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In this post, a quick overview of in what situation you may “duzen” someone (=the use of you) and when a “they” is more appropriate.

Duzen and Siezen are very delicate and sensitive matters in everyday German life.

Nevertheless, there are clear rules about when you and they are used in public. If you use “duzt” to children and “siezt” to strangers, you are on the safe side. If in doubt, it’s better to use “Du” more than too freely.

The interesting, but also very funny situations of “you” and “you” arise only in professional or business matters.

A long-standing controversy for executives: Do I or do I not duze my subordinates?

Doctoral theses may even have been written about how and when to use “Du” or “Sie” in the corporate hierarchy.

In most traditional German businesses, companies, stores, authorities, etc., people are still consistently “gesiezt” from the very top to the bottom. Even many employees with the same rank address each other as “Sie”, which is also common. And of course, people address each other as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” and their last name.

Even if the boss addresses you as “you”, this does not mean that you address him back. You always use “she”, so if he likes to be called by his first name, he will make a remark to that effect.

My experience:

A “they” relationship always harbors more tension than a “you” relationship, both professionally and in business. Certain things are not discussed or clarified in a “they” relationship and are therefore constantly up in the air.

The “you” relationship offers a more relaxed workday. However, this bears the danger that it is not too seldom exploited by employees. A return or the introduction of a “they” relationship is extremely difficult or even impossible!

If you are a foreign manager starting out in Germany, I recommend that you start by addressing your subordinates as “you”.

What if I meet friends of friends?

Here it is already more relaxed. Nevertheless, it is not the same if you duzt your friend, that you may also address his friend (whom you do not know yet) the same way.

In my experience, here among young people (up to 30 years) is mercilessly duzt.

Older people should be addressed as “Du” first, the “Du” usually develops quickly on its own.

The phrase “you” and “she” at work:

Switching from “they” to “you” is unproblematic and possible at any time.

Switching from “you” to “they” is almost impossible.

“you” and “they” in different everyday situations in Germany

At the doctorsie
meet people while hikingdu
in supermarket, hardware store, drugstoresie
small specialized storeshier wird sich meist geduzt
Email businesssie
Parcel carrierdu/sie
Sports clubdu
Driving schooldu
Police, fire departmentsie
Snack bardu
Armed Forcesgleichrangige Dienstgrade duzen sich, alles Andere nach oben und unten wird gesiezt
Phone hotlinesie
Night bardu
Technical Support Emaildu/sie