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Spanish Language Lesson #304: Titulos and Formalities

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July 11, 2019

Knowing how to speak Spanish is no longer a prerequisite for those visiting or living in Puerto Vallarta but, as guests in this country, you should at least learn to properly address those you meet.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - Did you know that, in Mexico, it's important to address professionals by their title? Unless you're on a first name basis with your Doctor, he or she is Doctor (masculine form) Garcia or Doctora (feminine form) Diego. Just as significant are the titles of your engineer, Ingeniero, or your architect, Arquetecto, who are responsible for the building and design of the home you're having constructed.

Titles mean a lot in Mexico and are a key facet of etiquette; many foreigners are unaware of this. You should address teachers as Maestro or Maestra; people with high skills and fine arts are also given these titles, out of respect for their achievements. Professional people with degrees are referred to as Licenciado or Licenciada.

When learning Spanish, and we always recommend doing so, it's important to know the difference between tu and usted for the word "you." It can get complicated but, once you catch on, it's easy. 'Tu' is used informally, whereas 'usted' is both formal and polite.

You would use 'usted' when talking to someone in general, like the bank teller, grocery store clerk, or one of the professionals we mentioned above. 'Tu' is reserved for family, close friends, your peers and loved ones. Using 'tu' when addressing someone upon meeting, especially in a business situation or a person of esteem, could create awkwardness.

'Tu' is also used by someone in authority when speaking to another person who would be considered of lesser authority, and it isn't construed as being rude. For example, if you were their elder or teacher, addressing a student with the informal 'tu' would be acceptable, as well as when talking to your maid or gardener, though we often find ourselves opting for 'usted,' out of politeness.

It can be difficult to assess at what point in a relationship you can switch from using 'usted' to the less formal 'tu'; this can make a lot of difference when it comes to the dating game. If you're getting to know someone on a basis that can possibly turn into an intimate connection, the last thing you want to do is make them feel like you're being aggressive.

Since our early days of speaking Spanish in Puerto Vallarta, we've found it wise to let the shoe be on the other foot. Wait until the tables are turned, so to speak. Especially if you are uncertain as to how one should be spoken to. Once you have been addressed informally, then it is okay to use the less respectful form of the word. North of the border, we have dropped many customary terms of etiquette, but Mexico is a different country, with different social standards. Que es cómo es.

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