A Beginner’s Guide to the Formal and Informal Use of ‘You’
When asking strangers for directions, use the formal form of ‘you’.
Use the familiar form with fishmongers and greengrocers, but the polite form with bakers and haberdashers.
With any other shopkeeper use the familiar, unless you’ve already seen them that day and they happened to be wearing a hat.
With waiters use the formal ‘you’, unless they are obsequious.
With registrars use the familiar form, with notaries, the polite.
Use the informal form with anyone you encounter in a burning building.
Also use the informal ‘you’ with your language partner’s cousins.
If you can’t tell the sex of a baby, use the familiar form.
If your host has a moustache, use the formal form.
Use the polite form with officers of the National Police Force only if they are known to you personally (because, for example, you crashed your car, then spent the night with them drinking).
With pigs, cows, goats and snakes use the informal ‘you’.
With a pack of stray dogs you are advised to use the plural polite.
If you know or suspect someone to be colour-blind, use the polite form.
Never use the familiar form with a pharmacist.
If in any doubt, remain silent.
(published in The Interpreter’s House)
A white bed, clean as a thickly-iced cake,
corners smooth and rounded. And later,
the same white bed, sheets peeled back
to marzipan, a cardigan trailing a sleeve
to the floor. She looks at his feet and thinks
she’s never seen such beautiful feet.
Out of the window, all the roofs and towerblocks,
all the heights and fire escapes with their own peculiar logic.
It’s late afternoon, impossible to tell
if the sky is the darkest grey or the darkest blue.
Whichever it is, the lights blink into their squares
and the rest gets darker.
(published in The North issue 42)
In the language of Dust
there is no future tense,
Its counting system is as follows:
It’s a myth
that it has over a million words
they are, in fact, agglutinative compounds:
‘speck’, for instance,
‘that rises in a puff
from an old sofa’
or ‘speck that’s newly landed
on the ear of a sleeping cat’.
Its intonation is very hard to detect;
its humour, often lost in translation.
It is more widely spoken
than even Mandarin.
Eventually we will all speak Dust.
Rosie Blagg lives in Leeds. Her poems have been published in The North, The Interpreter’s House, and the Grist anthology A Complicated Way of Being Ignored.