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Do Germans use "madame" often to address non-married or a married woman? or do they use Frau more often? Confused why being called madame by Germans. I am not French.

  • Welcome to German Language, Lisa! Please take the tour and read the help center. What has your research on this revealed so far? Please help us help you by documenting your prior research on this. You may improve your question with the help of How to Ask. In this case, your age and some other typical circumstances, like place of occurrence (Berlin?) might help. – LаngLаngС Feb 20 '18 at 20:42
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    This might depend on the context. Would be interesting to know whether you are French/French speaking or not. But there is no standard use for Madame in German. In general in addressing a women one does not differentiate between married and non-married women – NashVio Feb 20 '18 at 21:05
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    Please, try to not answer in comments, these might get lost. Instead, update your question with an edit. – LаngLаngС Feb 20 '18 at 22:19
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    You should elaborate on your question by adding context: where are you from, where are you living, what situations are there where Germans call you "madame". How old are you? What type of work do you do? - Only context will help explain why they call you "madame". – Christian Geiselmann Feb 21 '18 at 8:31
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    Maybe they thought you were an English speaker and they tried to say "ma'am". – Mr Lister Feb 21 '18 at 13:49
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The generally accepted, most common form of address for a female is "Frau". But Germans also do use Madame as a form of address. Although not nearly as often as the neutral default "Frau". Using Madame is more often heard than many people seem to notice. It is not really 'unusual', or 'very rare' but pales in absolute frequency to "Frau". Not least because Madame might carry a load of different connotations: in polite encounters among Germans it might be a not so good idea to use Madame. The absolute frequency varies overall, through times, and from region to region:

enter image description here (Source: DWDS – Verlaufskurve Madame)

But: This usage depends highly on the situation and circumstances. The range of possible meanings and especially connotations make it impossible to look at this word and define it out of context.

There are three different ways to pronounce this word: English, French and German (although French and German sound almost like homophones).

If someone identifies you as English speaking (and even more so if she uses English pronunciation) this is likely a courtesy, trying to address you with a supposedly familiar or correct form. Same goes for the case that you are identified as possibly a French native speaker.

In both other pronunciation cases than English, things get difficult if this is not meant as courtesy to an obvious foreigner.

Commonly the following meanings are listed:

Aussprache: IPA: [madam], Plural: [medam] Hörbeispiele: Lautsprecherbild madame (Info) Reime: -am

Bedeutungen:
1. veraltet: Ehrentitel für Angehörige der oberen Schichten:
2. Titel für eine verheiratete Frau oder in Verbindung mit Berufsbezeichnungen: Frau
3. als direkte Anrede: gnädige Frau, Madame
4. umgangssprachlich: Dame
5. absolut: Hausherrin

Or more simple:

Wortbedeutung/Definition:
1) als Anrede: Frau, gnädige Frau
Anwendungsbeispiele:
1) Küss die Hand, Madame.

Madame
Synonyme Frau, Madam (stilistische Variante)
Oberbegriff Anrede

Some synonyms:

Dame | Frau von Stand | Grazie | Lady | Madame [frz.] | elegante Frau

titelähnlich oder als Anrede gebrauchte französische Bezeichnung für Frau

But this leaves out the considerable leeway Germans exploit when using this word.

Verwendungsbeispiele
maschinell ausgesucht aus den DWDS-Korpora
Die Madame des hoteleigenen Nachtclubs habe in der ganzen Stadt die Mädchen zusammen gesucht, für mehr als 1200 Yuan (133 Euro) pro Kopf.
Süddeutsche Zeitung, 30.09.2003

Diese Frage vermag Madame Trautmann noch nicht zu beantworten, sie gibt sich aber locker und interessiert.
Die Welt, 07.12.2001

Die Madame kennt sie alle - und kann die abtrünnigen Geistlichen vermitteln. Bild, 06.01.1998
Er verfügt definitiv über mehr Glamour als Edelgard Bulmahn, die bedauernswerte Madame Pisa.
Der Tagesspiegel, 20.09.2003

Frans Hals soll den Männern beibringen, daß sie Hüte tragen müssen, um ein respektables Ansehen zu gewinnen, schon Fragonard, Mesdames, kannte das Geheimnis der Unterwäsche.
Die Zeit, 19.05.1967, Nr. 20

Madame geruht zu speisen.

And mainly inspired from older literature: "als modische allgemeine anrede an höher gestellte frauen seit dem 16. jahrh. aus dem französischen übernommen" | madam! ich liebe sie! | madame! sie sind die schönste aller frauen! | madame, wir haben heut Mariatag. |

Often with an extreme germanised pronuciation this is mainly found in Hamburg and Berlin as a form of address for young girls, especially for calling on them. But also for any female when meant as a half-polite form of a derogatory address.

Madam

Maddam meist abfällig gebrauchte Bezeichnung für eine Frau oder ein Mädchen, das einem nahe steht.
Wenn ich Maddamm noch ma beim Schwänzen erwisch, dann is aber Mattäi am Letzten, lass dir dat gesacht sein. Ach, Madam is sich zu fein für dat bischen Putzen un Kochen? Ach, Maddamm kommt auch schon nach Hause?

As you can see, this form of address is applied in different contexts with very different meanings. In the Rhineland it mostly for young girls, in Hamburg it is also used for prostitutes, and in Berlin it can almost considered a standard form of acceptable address (colloquially, cf "Berliner Schnauze").

Without more context for tone of voice, very concrete situations – and this includes location (it seems to be quite uncommon in general to the south of the German speaking world) – this is hard to diagnose as anything other than form of address for a female. It can be many things. From extremely formal to extremely colloquial, from paying high respect to being quite insulting.


Further examples for possible confusion and differing opinions on connotations: Bedeutung des Wortes "Madame"?, Was Bedeutet Dieser Kosename?, Madame?!, Ist "Madame" eine abwertende Bezeichnung?, Kommentare zu "Madame", Madame fehlt mir noch, so werd ich immer genannt wenn ich irgendwo was kaufen soll.

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    (Hannover area) Here we stopped using it because of the derogatory form. It's inpolite. English veriant is still fine if appropiate in context. – BlueWizard Feb 21 '18 at 10:53
  • in Bavarian, it may have a derogatory meaning (similar to spoiled brat, hence the past reference to the aristocracy), always depending on the context (otherwise it is barely used, despite we have quite some French lend-words). – Martin Zeitler Feb 22 '18 at 19:45
  • It is maybe worth to add that I hear "Merci" a lot too (even if pronounced "Mérci" and not "Mercì") – Noldor130884 Feb 23 '18 at 7:36
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"Madame" is NOT used in German EXCEPT in an ironic/derogative way, especially for misbehaving little girls. "Frau" is almost always used with a name (Frau Müller, ...) not just "Frau" to address someone. Directly addressing someone without a name (such as Mister/Monsieur) does not exist in modern German except in formal situations ("Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren, ...").

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    True, as a German word (not referring to an English or French women) I only know it in the ironic/derogative context: "Die kleine Lisa ist eine ganz schöne Madame geworden!" – Daniel Feb 21 '18 at 13:59
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    Here in South Germany it is used as a polite address for strangers, especially in shops or restaurants: "Und für Madame?" "Madame wünsche?" – RedSonja Feb 22 '18 at 7:52
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    Also here in South West Germany (Stuttgart) I can't rember to have heard Madame anywhere. But Dame is used quite often: e.g. "Was bekommt die Dame." - "Fragen Sie die Dame da drüben" – Takkat Feb 22 '18 at 8:11
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    A (much) better variant of this answer would state that it's used in some dialects, and pretty much unheard of in written/high german. – Peter Feb 22 '18 at 19:58
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Bei der Interpretation genügt es nach dem Tonfall und dem Kontext zu gehen. Von zärtlich bis verachtend ist alles drin, wie LangLangC ausführt.

Madame wird immer mal wieder von jemandem verwendet, aber lange nicht so häufig wie wie das neutralere Frau, welches insbesondere in formalen Kontexten dominant ist.

Eine ironische Note wird häufig dabei sein, aber diese einzuordnen bedarf der genaueren Kenntnis der Sprecher und der Situation. Der Begriff betont das damenhafte.

Die Schreibweise 'Madame' lässt die Spekulation über eine englische Aussprache nicht zu, wie auch der Hinweis, keine Französin zu sein.

6

This question has its fair share of answers, but except for the comments, I do not really see the fact that OP is _being called_ Madame mentioned anywhere.

So, if you are called Madame today in Germany, then one of these (rather specific) cases could apply:

  • You are the (child/adolescent) daughter of a German parent and did something naughty. Not relevant for your case, as you probably would not have asked the question then.
  • You are a customer in a very posh restaurant or fashion shop. (But then, they would use the word with every woman around, not just you.)
  • You are in one of the northern parts of the country and some guy is bantering with you (this is more of a dialect issue then, it is nearly unheard of in more southern parts of the country).
  • You are actually talking about Austria - there it should be more common, again especially in restaurants or shops, but they use plenty of words quite differently from Germany.
  • You are quite old (like 70+) and presenting yourself in a very dignified fashion, eliciting the word from people who are slightly in awe and would normally not use it with younger women.

I cannot really think of any other case. In normal day-to-day-life, especially with the regular distance we keep in Germany, especially in a workplace, the word is more or less unheard-of. If you are just a normal woman in normal surroundings, I also would be quite confused if people used that word with you.

  • Looks like a very welcome addition. Especially "in the workplace". (While I could think of some more cases in your list ;) ) However, what is your b-point about Austria? +1 anyway. – LаngLаngС Feb 21 '18 at 23:17
  • Not sure what a "b-point" is but I get how that sentence could be interpreted weirdly, @LangLangC. I've changed it. – AnoE Feb 22 '18 at 19:54
  • Bullet point. Thx for clarifying. – LаngLаngС Feb 22 '18 at 19:55
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    Before the 20th century, France had quite an influence on Austria (court conventions originated in France, but also architecturally Schloss Schönbrunn in Vienna was modeled after Versailles). In particular in the (noble) Viennese dialect around 1900, French foreign words like Portemonnaie (Geldbörse/wallet) or Trottoir (Gehsteig/pavement) were quite popular. In the same spirit, Austrians sometimes still address a woman as madame when they want to be charming (or ironic). – lambda.xy.x Mar 1 '18 at 20:18
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I am a foreigner in Germany.

I can't remember a single time to hear the word "madam" from native speakers. Although they know and they would surely understand it.

"Frau" is a quite common word, it means mainly "woman", but has also the polite-honorful tone as "madame".

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    Anecdotal evidence which — unfortunately, in this case — just means you are in the wrong parts of Germany. E.g. Madame is almost never used in Bavaria but often in the middle and northern Rhine area and Berlin. – Jan Feb 21 '18 at 2:22
  • I would not discount this piece of evidence, anecdotal though it is. It suggests that any answer should really include the importance of dialect and geography, i.e., that the usage of "Madame" varies enormously by where you are. The currently top-voted and accepted answer unfortunately does not include this, except for noting some variation in northern Germany. I have lived in southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland for 40 years now, and I have never heard the word outside French class. – Stephan Kolassa Feb 21 '18 at 8:38
  • It’s worth mentioning that while “Frau” is a common word, it’s (just like “Madame”) never used as a form of address. You wouldn’t say “Möchte die Frau noch etwas trinken?”, you’d say “Möchten Sie noch etwas trinken?” — Prepare for odd looks otherwise. – Konrad Rudolph Feb 21 '18 at 12:07
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    @LangLangC "Möchte die Dame noch etwas trinken?" I hear this very often. – RedSonja Feb 22 '18 at 7:53
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    @RedSonja Wow, it became clear for me just now, that "madame" and "Dame" have probably the same root :-) – user259412 Jun 14 at 8:04
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That word is in use, but not very common nowadays, and the meaning is heavily dependant on the context.

Examples could be:

  • polite/honorific, although a bit antiquated: "Was wünschen Madame zu speisen?"
  • ironic/derisive, to a girl/teenager: "Wenn ich Madame noch einmal dabei erwische, wie sie an meine Kreditkarte geht, setzt es was!"
    • Mainly used to put said girl's head straight when she thinks she's entitled to something she actually isn't.
  • Warning: The english word "madam" is sometimes used to denote a procuress, too, and this connotation did make some headway into the usage of this word in German.

Anyway, "gnädige Frau" is a more up to date replacement for "Madame", especially for the more positive connotations.

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    "gnädige Frau" sounds pretty formal and outdated for spoken German. I've never heard it being used. – Dmitry Grigoryev Feb 21 '18 at 8:54
  • @DmitryGrigoryev: Gnädige Frau is much more common than Madam. And unlike Madam which is almost without exception the cynical description of your not-so-much-loved annoying wife, Gnädige Frau actually quite polite unless explicitly pronounced differently. You would not use it on anyone younger than 65-70 though, which may be the reason why you've not heard it. – Damon Feb 21 '18 at 9:31
  • Even if an extremely posh setting, nobody would use it as a honorific nowadays. It’s simply inaccurate to say otherwise. – Konrad Rudolph Feb 21 '18 at 12:00
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    "Gnä' Frau": You do hear it in Austria and I find it charming. – RedSonja Feb 22 '18 at 7:54
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    Yes, there are vast regional differences - both for "Madame" and "Gnädige Frau", especially with the more positive connotations. While both of it is frequently used in posh/upscale settings, "Gnädige Frau" has a more relaxed use in Southern Germany, with the contraction "Gnä' Frau" as heard in Austria continues that trend. – Anonymous Feb 23 '18 at 7:55

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