Just returned from spending several days in Germany (Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg) ... I noticed some use of the informal Du in situations where I wouldn't have expected it.

Was it just my imagination? Or is it a southern-Germany thing (and I would have never heard such in Berlin)? Or is the language changing?

Of course, English underwent this exact change, albeit in the other direction: dropping the informal (thou, etc.) for always using the formal you. Is German beginning to slowly drop Sie for more use of Du?


2 Answers 2


I fully agree with the very good answer by @JonathanHerrera, but I think a few more examples of situations, where Duzen has become the norm, may be helpful. If you want to have even more details, German Wikipedia has an long text on the phenomenon of the spread of Duzen.

Furthermore, I guess it is not just the language changing, but the language change is a facet of a broader cultural change towards a more egalitarian society (ultimately, kicked off by the youth rebellion of the late sixties).

The examples come from my personal experience (as an under 35 year old person from a larger city in eastern central Germany) and from the Wikipedia article above.

  1. University students almost universally say du to one another, even when they do not know each other. This is so common, that Siezen is perceived as notably unusual in that context. This seems to have been one of the first contexts were the use of du instead of Sie gained land in modern use in the seventies.

  2. People under the age of 40 will commonly use du without hesitation when talking to one another, unless they meet in a formal setting. For example, I would rarely use Sie when talking to someone my age or younger on the street or in public transport. I tend to be a bit more formal with older people (perhaps 50 and above), because of my perception that they may expect more formality and I don't want to offend them.

  3. I usually use Sie with people working in shops. An exception are hip or counter-cultural places.

  4. When I was a child (nineties and early two-thousands), some of my friends would use Sie with my parents who would immediately tell them to use du instead. I would also use Sie with my friends' parents when first meeting them, as you couldn't be sure they would be okay with du. I often heard jokes like "Das kostet fünf Mark" (It costs five D-Mark) if I used Sie and the parents were okay with du. This shows quite clearly that the expectations in such situations were in a state of flux then.

  5. People that meet at a sport or hobby related activity will commonly use du, for example people meeting in a gym, on a mountain bike trail or at a music festival. I would not hesitate to use du even with people older than 50 at a rock climbing gym.

  6. If you meet someone in an informal social setting (e.g. a party at a friends house) you will typically use du right away.

  7. A lot of companies universally use du in internal communication nowadays (especially if they strive for flat hierarchies and perceive themselves as modern). Sometimes it will only be within a department, but often even company wide. It may even be common to use du with employees of partner companies, suppliers or corporate customers. In my perception, this is especially common among technical staff, but I have no data to back this up.


It is not a southern-German thing. Based on personal experience, I can safely say that German has become more informal in the last 20 years. Using Du has become more common, in a way that it feels rude to Siezify people in certain situations. For instance, saying Sie to a waiter under 50 in a café would be considered a little off nowadays. Also, big companies started Duzifying their customers, with IKEA being one of the most prominent examples. While some professors at the university still used their title in written communication with students, a lot dropped it and made a point not to be called "Professorin" or "Professor", some even go by Du and by first name with their students. That would have been beyond imagination 30 or 40 years ago.

Written communication has become more informal, too, coinciding with email having become more widespread and replacing a majority of letters. 20 years ago I learned in school that Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren, Sehr geehrte Frau or Sehr geehrter Herr is the go-to greeting in letters, nowadays Hallo is more common, and the old formula comes across as stiff and old fashioned. You would expect to be greeted like this in letters from your bank or from the government, but not from actual people you know in person, such as your landlord, for instance.

  • 12
    +1. Yet not sure that using "Du" with a waiter is now common - it depends IMHO on the type of pub or restaurant you go to. There are some which use the "Du" (typical the 'Dorfkneipe' or equivalent), and others which use the "Sie"... I don't mind either so much as long as it matches the setting; I'd still be looking surprised if in an expensive restaurant I'd be addressed with "Du", while making the thing more cozy and familiar in a rustic pub or small restaurant. Indeed I ask all students to address me with "Du", and there's only two collegues among ~50 whom I see daily and address with "Sie". Commented May 23 at 17:22
  • 5
    This is really interesting. I am French and have traveled extensively to Germany since the 90s' and always felt that Du vs Sie is as strict in Germany as in France (I do not speak German though, but lots of German friends explained me all of this under all possible angles). I have not seen any change in tu vs vous in French in the last 20 years in typical settings. You use vous with waiters, teachers, professors, parents of friends (and sometimes - your parents). I am really surprised that Germany softened on that - we usually see it as way stricter than we are.
    – WoJ
    Commented May 24 at 14:51
  • 5
    Another data point: Some 30 years ago, when I was still in school, it would have been totally unthinkable for my parents to adress any other parents of my classmates/friends with "du", or with anything other than "Frau/Herr <surname>". Nowadays that my own kids are in school/child nursery, it has become entirely natural without any exception that parents address each other with "du" and the first name. Just the teacher/child nursery educators are addressed with "Sie" by us. Commented May 25 at 17:07

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