When Should You Use Usted Instead Of Tu?

And these letters are making gringos look bad.

Dear Mexican: I learned Spanish in school as a teen. Then, it seems, because I was young, everybody was an usted. I would like to practice speaking it, but am now an adult and don't know who gets to be a tú. I'm scared of getting it wrong and unwittingly offending. might be too familiar — hence, disrespectful — and usted might be too cold or aloof. Please tell what is customarily done, so I can dare to try to speak this very beautiful language. Thank you!

—Yo Quiero Hablar

Dear I Want to Speak: Primeramente, thank usted for being a gabacho who's not afraid of Spanish — you can teach Arizona and Alabama something, you know? The formal second-person personal pronoun usted isn't cold or aloof at all, though, but rather a sign of respect toward the person you're addressing — it could be a kid, a viejito or the pinche king of England. (and here, the novice Spanish speaker will note the use of the accent to distinguish it from tu, which without an accent is the informal singular second-person possessive "your"; the formal singular second-person possessive in Spanish is su) is for addressing anyone who doesn't deserve particular respect but also doesn't deserve derision. For those pendejos in the latter category, don't even bother addressing them as a "you" — just call them "Alabama."

I just read another letter in your column from a gabacho talking about Mexicans, who he claims are "desecrating our flag. A-a-and showing contempt for American citizens!!!" (Presumably white American citizens, who are more easily identified than pochos.) It's time for me to ask you — are these letters for real? Are you sure they're not some nefarious Mexican plot to make white people look like a bunch of whiny cracker boobs? I'm married to a Mexican woman. Our family may be dysfunctional and slow to pick up the check in restaurants, but unpatriotic? I have a son-in-law who just came back from Iraq. I have a brother-in-law who barely speaks English. He wants to become naturalized just so he can vote Republican. (I know, I know. Don't ask.) And if you ask the pochos, they will tell you that the most dubious patriot in the family is that big gabacho over there — the one whose family all came from Norway. Sadly, they would be pointing at me.

If these letters really are real, then I throw myself at the mercy of your readers. Not all gringos are unemployed, crank-snorting, self-pitying trailer trash. OK, a lot of us are, but don't give up on the rest of us. I am already in trouble with the pocho side of the family, who suggest that if I don't love my country, maybe I should move back to Norway, where I belong.

—A Gabacho Unleashed

Dear Gabacho: Of course all the letters sent in are real. Who do you think I am, a fabulist à la Sarah Palin? As I always say in my many lectures, I only do three things to the questions: edit them for space constraints, clean them up for grammatical purposes and give people a pseudonym (I would've called usted Dumbfounded in Denver, but your choice worked). But you don't have to worry about Mexicans making gabachos look bad — the state of Alabama (creator of some of the toughest recent state laws targeting immigrants) does that job just great. And don't worry about Mexicans hating on good gabachos such as yourself. We keep track of every gabacho in this country — we know who we can count on to marry our daughters and who's calling code enforcement whenever our primo Chava parks his Suburban on our lawn — in our own mestizo Domesday Book, making notes so when the time comes to take over, we'll decide who gets the shot of Corralejo and who gets deported to Alabama.

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8 comments
Michael
Michael

You mean it's not vos? Hope I haven't been insulting people all these years

Daniel
Daniel

I have a better word to use instead of tu or usted... It's the word "you"

Bob
Bob

Usted should be used in Mexico! The English language should be used in the USA!!

Loki Laufeyson
Loki Laufeyson

I use 'usted' when I don't know the person very well, or when they are in a higher-ranking position than I am regardless of age... such as my boss or my pastor. If I know the person well, or they're a friend/family, or they do not deserve my respect because of poor social behavior, then it's "tú".

So, do you all recognize Vosotros, or consider someone who uses that pronoun and all of its forms correctly as "uneducated", or simply a speaker of a different dialect?

My second question is this: if Latinos (or Hispanics-- what do y'all prefer that we call you?) have such respect for a bilingual gabacho/a then why will Hispanic hiring managers only hire a native speaker under the guise of "Hispanics are not comfortable working with or for a non-Hispanic"? Yet "wetbacks" are so comfortable accepting the "greenbacks" when the hiring manager is a "whiteback" (redneck? Words chosen for literary purposes, not intended as an insult)

Please elaborate. ¡Gracias!

Tiny
Tiny

The word Usted is used to give respect to those we don't know too well, when using the word Tu, it's used in a sentence when we know the person well.

littleroches
littleroches

@Bob  but america wasnt originally english though it was other languages before English

Karlos
Karlos

Usted vaya y chingue a toda su madre! Un insulto con respeto, que deberias aprender.

 
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