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It frequently happens that I am unsure whether to talk to a person in Sie or du terms. Most of the time, I wait till the person himself gives some hint. Or I talk in Sie. But what is the polite way to ask this?

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I don’t think there is a conventional way to ask for this, although it is sometimes difficult to know whether to use “Sie” or “du” for native speakers as well. You could use something like this:

Wollen wir uns duzen oder siezen?

Still, in cases where I am unsure I’d prefer to avoid any pronoun completely, or if it is unavoidable, use Sie. If the other person thinks it is not the appropriate form, it is less awkward for them to suggest a change from Sie to du (“Wir können auch du sagen!“) than the other way round.

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My three rules of thumb:

  1. The senior person offers to the junior. This could mean a teacher to a student, a boss to an employee, a full professor to an assistant professor.
  2. The older person offers to the younger.
  3. The woman offers to the man.

If you are neither senior, older, nor female, then do not offer. Wait for the offer to be made to you.

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