What Not to Du.

January 3, 2013 / by Rachel Reardon

This month, I’m going to dedicate a series of posts to the dreaded cultural faux pas. I’ll share a few of my own red-faced moments – and what I learned as a result. If you’ve got any stories to share, I’d love to here about it in the comments.

A younger version of myself, traveling in the Munich S-Bahn.

For my first anecdote, I’ll take you back to the year 2006. I’d just arrived in Munich for a summer study abroad program and should have been beaming with excitement. But instead, I sat in the back of my back of my cab, my cheeks beaming red for all the wrong reasons. I’d just committed my first cultural faux pas.

Before getting in the cab, I’d asked my elderly cab driver if I could help him load my significantly heavy luggage into the trunk. But instead of using the polite form of “you” (Sie), which should always be used with strangers, I had used the more informal du, which should be reserved for friends, family, and other close acquaintances. As soon as I saw the slight look of offense of his face, I knew what I’d done. Face, meet palm.

The truth is, if you’re a newbie in a foreign country, you’re bound to make a few cultural missteps. But you should always try to do your homework beforehand by reading up on the customs, etiquette, and traditions of the country you’re visiting.

Which leads me to one of things I like best about Mango: the cultural notes. Popping up several times a chapter, they guide you like a friend, providing gentle nudges about what-to-do and what-not-to-do. Not to mention, they provide a great little “brain break” from all the language-learning you’re doing and keep you interested in the lesson.

Take this cultural note, for example, from Chapter 1 of Mango’s German course:

Ta-da! A short and sweet explanation about the difference between du and Sie and when to use them. So hopefully you, dear Mango student, will not find yourself in the same hot water that I did.

Have you ever experienced a cultural faux-pas? Or is there something you wish you had known before traveling to a foreign country?

Topics: Language Learning and Culture

Rachel Reardon

Written by Rachel Reardon

Rachel works with some of the coolest marketers, designers, and writers around to help Mango look and sound its best. She loves bold colors, old books, the Montréal metro, and Star Trek. She has conflicting feelings about the Oxford comma.

Subscribe to Email Updates