The French are struggling.
After years of battling against English cultural invasions and Quarter Pounders a change is creeping in to their language. And it is one that I think should make us all pause for thought.
In most Latin based languages the word you can either take the formal version or informal version. Tu and vous in French. Du and sie in German.
The difference really is about how well you know the person. I remember (and it is a long time ago now) that one of the first things I was taught in German class was how to ask “May I call you du?” It was way to show your respect to a stranger, while still being friendly enough offer a formal conversation if they preferred.
The growth of internet communications, especially social media, has seen the death of formal language. A philosophy of equality amongst peers has seen use of sie and vous dwindle and the growth of informal du and tu rocket. It’s a bit like the death of dear in English and the standardisation of hi as a greeting.
This move has crept into our language (and I was a prime mover, which is why I am thinking about it). The question, however, is whether we should stand up against the demise of traditional greetings or move with the times and embrace it.
The move towards the ever-familiar seems to have sneaked in alongside the move towards a more counter-cultural way of doing things. Look at the number of companies that almost expect office staff, and even managers, to show up in jeans. It is met with raised eyebrows if an employee comes in wearing a tie!
The jeans movement of the 70’s was founded in the West Coast of America when engineers and developers in Silicon Valley took a stand against “the suits” of the East Coast. The only real advantage to their movement was that if you were going to stay awake for 2 days writing code or building the next amazing thing you only needed to change your t-shirt, wash and you were good to carry on.
The problem is now that the counter-culture has become the culture. Not only that, but when was the last time a member of this counter culture stayed up for 36 hours working on a particularly fascinating business problem? Exactly.
So what is the next move for counter culture? Pyjamas? Or will there be a counter to the counter culture which heralds the return of the suit and tie. I, for one, would prefer to do business in the latter.
Ian Hughes is the CEO of Consumer Intelligence, a market research company that is dedicated to helping its customers make intelligent decisions using the best possible insight.