How do you know you are not a teenager anymore or that you are getting old? I realized it when a boy called me “tia” for the first time. I took a deep breath, smiled and said: yes? I was still terrified by the idea of being called “tia”, and not the other way round, as had happened so far.
Tia means aunt, but in Brazil it can also be used to address your parents’ friends, your friends’ parents and your school teacher. It is a loving form of addressing, but not everyone likes to be greeted in that way. During my English classes I preferred being called teacher to “tia”. It made me feel better, less old.
When addressing professors, we usually use formal words, such as “senhor” or “senhora” and the first name of the person, not the last one, as in English. It depends on the professor and his relationship with the students, but it usually ends up changing to an informal way of addressing one another by the end of the semester. At the beginning of the semester we might say “Professora (Luciana), a senhora pode me explicar…” and at the end “Lu, você pode me explicar…”
Some situations and authorities require formal treatment. Vossa Excelência is an official way of addressing presidents, governors and mayors. Excelentíssimo or Meritíssimo Senhor is used when referring to a judge, Vossa Eminência to cardinals and Vossa Santidade to the Pope. Parents and relatives can be called “senhor”, “senhora” or “você”, depending on their relationship to one another or the family.
When we study Portuguese at school, we learn how to conjugate verbs using the pronoun “tu”: eu, tu, ele, nós, vós, eles (I, you, he/it, we, you, they). “Tu” is mostly used in the South, North and Northeast of Brazil (except Bahia) and Rio de Janeiro. It is often conjugated the wrong way. The correct form is “tu vais”, but people also say “tu vai”.
On a daily basis, in most parts of the country, we say “você” instead of “tu”. While in Portugal “você” is a semi-formal way of addressing people, in Brazil it is the most common way to address someone, except older people and in situations which require formality. Newspapers and magazines address readers in that way. The word “você” comes from “Vossa Mercê”, an old form of address.
By and large, we opt for informality in Brazil. We use not only “você” but also even more informal versions when talking to our friends. “Velho”, “rei”, “mano”, “and minha pedra”, “cara”: so many that there would be a subject for another text!