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I have to address my future German Au Pair family in an E-mail and until now have only been in contact with the woman. However the last E-mail was signed with both names, so I now feel I should address the husband as well in my reply. It has been rather informal contact, she has already initiated 'duzen' so I would be using 'Liebe'.

Could somebody tell me, do I say 'Liebe (Female X) und lieber (Male X),' or is there a way I should address them both together?

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Not a stupid question at all! :) –  elena Mar 19 '13 at 7:43
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This is a really good question, and it's of a class of questions that has befuddled me ever since I started speaking German: Dealing with groups of mixed Du/Sie status. Even Germans will tell you that there is no easy solution to this kind of thing. –  AmericanUmlaut Mar 19 '13 at 10:39

3 Answers 3

Liebe Angela,
lieber Peer,
...

or

Liebe Angela und lieber Peer,

both sound perfect to me, if they both signed their last email with Angela und Peer.

If you address both the parents and their children* (!), you can use

Liebe Familie Müller,

Only an official sender (like the tax office) would use

Eheleute Müller

and only in the address field. Otherwise this is obsolete.


*see the definition of "Familie"

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The least problematic variant for both, formality, and familiarity in a case, when you communicate with strangers but expect to have a somewhat closer relationship in the future would be adressing them with their last name, and use 'Liebe...'

Examples:

Liebe Beate Müller, lieber Hans Müller,
Liebe Familie Müller,*

Only in case they already had offered the 'Du'-form - as is was here - we can also use this in the letter, i.e. adressing them with their first names only and use the 'Du' (plural 'Ihr', 'Euch') in the text.

In all other cases, when you had not yet agreed to the 'Du' form the formal 'Sie' should be used.

*The use of "Familie" is generally used for a married couple having children. It should therefore only be used when writing to a family, i.e. when there are also children living in their home. This may likely be the case when it comes to a position as an Au Pair.

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Familie refers to the family as whole, not to the wife and his husband. –  Christian Graf Mar 19 '13 at 14:16
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Yes, you are correct Christian, Familie refers to the family as whole. But it may also refer to wife and husband, if that is the whole family. If my wife and I together were addressed as Eheleute instead of Family in such a context, I would be confused. I would interpret this in the way, that the author is willingly not calling us a family. That is a move totally inacceptable to an Au Pair. –  Toscho Mar 19 '13 at 15:39
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@what: Duden might be wrong there. To clarify this it would probably make another good question here [asĸ]. There is "Familienrecht", "kinderlose Familien", "Familienstand ledig"... –  Takkat Mar 19 '13 at 21:12
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@Takkat german.stackexchange.com/questions/6426/… –  user1914 Mar 19 '13 at 22:03
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We're at a hot terrain. Different ways of life have different views on that. The more conservative, the more members a family needs to have, to be a "true family" (father, mother, children, grand parents, aunts, cousins, …). The more liberal, the less restrictions for that word: (father+child, mother+child, patchwork, father+father+child, mother+mother+child, 3 adults and a child, adult sibling and minor sibling, two adults, several minors, …). Personally, I would anything consisting of two or more people living together or having similars bonds allow to be called a family. –  Toscho Mar 20 '13 at 6:37

If the wife has offered you to communicate on a first-name basis then, as you correctly perceive, it is O.K. for you to take her up on that offer.

However, the husband may be a bit taken aback by being addressed as "Lieber Hans" by a perfect stranger. On the other hand, addressing them as "Sehr geehrte(r) Herr und Frau Schmidt" may strike them as needlessly stiff, even robotic.

A good compromise in my opinion would be to find some middle ground between politeness and informality. I would suggest "Liebe Eheleute Schmidt". Literally, "Eheleute" is "married people", i.e., husband and wife. Then continue addressing them both as "Sie", not "Du", until the husband, too, asks you to call him Hans.

Then again, as you say the husband has co-signed their last mail to you, so it could be appropriate to address them "Dear Petra, dear Hans" after all. This may be a situation where your intuition should be your guide. In any case they are hiring you as an au pair, not a German teacher, and you can be 100 percent sure that any minor language gaffes from you will be forgiven. In fact, they will probably preserve them for the family chronicles :)

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I think the most essential part is the last paragraph. +1 for this. –  Em1 Mar 19 '13 at 8:48
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Eheleute is not used in normal conversations or letters. I would not recommend using it. It sounds like a lawyer speaking. –  uncovery Mar 19 '13 at 8:58

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