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Mademoiselle & Fraulein

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DVD Smith
1292438.  Fri Aug 10, 2018 9:26 am Reply with quote

Q: What is the correct way to address a young unmarried woman in France?

[Klaxon: Mademoiselle]

A: Madame.

In 2012, the French government issued a decree to all official institutions to remove the word "mademoiselle" from documents, as it was deemed sexist to refer to a woman by her marital status when the universal "monsieur" does not ask the same of a man.

Similarly, in 1972 the government of West Germany banned the use of "Fräulein", directing that all women should be addressed only as "Frau". It is still occasionally used, however its use is heavily discouraged unless the woman requests to be addressed that way.

Sources: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

The word "mademoiselle", a contraction of "ma demoiselle", means "my young lady" or "my damsel". The male equivalent, which is almost never used, would be "mon damoiseau". [6]

Could be a good GI question, as I certainly had no idea that Mademoiselle and Fräulein were unacceptable until quite recently, having grown up with films like The Sound of Music where Fräulein is used regularly. I imagine most people think that the terms are equivalent to 'Miss' in English, which doesn't quite have the same levels of discouragement attached as the French and German equivalents. (Of course, 'Miss' can obviously still be offensive in certain contexts, but AFAIK the UK government has never issued a statement banning the use of the word Miss.)

1292447.  Fri Aug 10, 2018 12:07 pm Reply with quote

In practice, Mademoiselle is still used quite a lot in France. The government has stopped using it in official documents, but plenty of people haven't. It is still usual to address a woman waiter as Mademoiselle even if she is of middle years. In fact, it's a young woman scarcely out of school who is most likely not to care for it.

There is no French word equivalent to Ms, and the likes of Jacques Chirac will huff and puff about Madame being wrong for a woman who is not married. (M Chirac is sufficiently old school that he and his wife call each other vous. She is from a noble family and hence "entitled" to it, while she is but a woman and therefore "not allowed" to call a gentleman tu.) Plenty ignore these French Farage types of course, but by no means all.

In Québec on the other hand, Mademoiselle is practically extinct unless you're addressing a schoolgirl. Some older women of the Ann Widdecombe type will let you know that they prefer it thank you very much, and it is conventional for woman actors (just as Miss is in Hollywood), but otherwise it is rare.

The provincial government uses Mad in official correspondence, but this has not caught on in speech, not least because people know what "mad" means in English. Some in Montréal use the English Missus with the meaning of Ms, but in general any adult woman is Madame just as the government wishes her to be in France.

1293009.  Wed Aug 15, 2018 9:26 pm Reply with quote

Or you could just do what I do (when canvassing) - "is it Mrs, Miss, Ms?" - ask them how they prefer to be addressed.


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