A THEORY OF TU AND VOUS. I have posted a number of times about the French view of tu and vous. Rereading those posts, I see that my interest was primarily in current usage and my personal experience of it. For example, I took note here that a change from “vous” to a greater use of tu seems to have taken place around 1970, right around the time that one of my French friends was using “tu” to her friends she had met at work, but unable to bring herself to use “tu” to a childhood friend. And, yet, we have happily married friends who only use “vous” to each other.
Lauren Collins focuses on the implications of tu and vous for French speakers. She points out that the distinction in French is not between polite and rude. Rather, the grid is divided between public and private. She says: “Vous and tu concentrated intimacy by dividing it into distinct shades—the emotional equivalent of Russian’s two shades of blue.”