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The Complexity of Tú and Usted in Mexican Spanish

Before I leave behind for the time being the and usted topic, I want to share a couple more personal experiences with you to help paint a picture of the complexity of the issue.

Experiencia #1

My husband has a friend he calls Don Manuel. Don is a sign of deep respect. They speak to each other using usted (formal – you, singular). This always seemed peculiar to me because they are contemporaries in their respective fields, are almost the same age and go out together on occasion with the guys. When they do hit cantinas, I’m sure everyone else at the table uses , but my husband and Don Manuel insist on using usted.

Usted can be a way to demonstrate respect. My husband uses usted to let Manuel know that he admires his academic work and respects him as a person. The same goes for Don Manuel toward my husband. It’s just one of the many ways that one can use usted.

Experiencia #2

We hired a neighbor to help with household duties once a week. I soon discovered that we have a lot in common. As we grew closer, using usted became a little awkward.
One day Mari said to me, “Why don´t you use when we speak? Call me Mari, like everyone else.”
¡Qué bueno!” I said. “I’d like you to use also.”
It seemed to me to be the natural response, but Mari just looked at me blankly.
“You want me to use ? You don´t want me to call you señora?”

It has not been easy for Mari to get used to. Usted, in this case, is used to establish distance and a hierarchy. It lets it be known who is in charge. It sets boundaries. It makes it clear that this is a working relationship, in no way to be confused with a friendship.
Real life is a lot more complicated. People and their respective situations are a lot more complicated. I’m happy to say that Mari and I are breaking down those boundaries to begin to create a friendship within a working environment.

Don – Used in a person’s name to show respect. Doña is the feminine equivalent.
Sirvienta – Servant, used to describe the person who helps with household or kitchen duties.
Experiencia – Experience
¡Qué bueno! – That´s good!