Without exaggeration — or, only slight exaggeration — not a week goes by that I don’t learn something surprising.
Take today for example. I innocently asked a young woman: “Should I call you Madame or Mademoiselle?”
“Mademoiselle no longer exists, officially that is,” she replied. “Women are madame, men monsieur and that’s it.”
OK then. “No one told me, so I do apologize.”
For the moment at least, France has not invented the neutral/abstract Ms. and considering safeguarding their language is a top priority, I seriously doubt the French will appropriate Ms.
The woman was extremely sweet. She then went on to say that she was unmarried, mother of 12-year-old twin girls and was, she supposed, technically a mademoiselle because she had never been married, but she preferred madame.
I totally get it, but I still wanted to find out about the rationale behind my new information. Basically it was an anti-discrimination judgement. Apparently mademoiselle incites prejudice.
In 2012, mademoiselle disappeared from all government related documents. From what I can ascertain, it was a “recommendation” rather than a law. Then prime minister, François Fillon (who is now running for president), declared that all “formulaires” and correspondence should avoid the use of the “third choice,” explaining that no documents ever ask if a man is married and therefore women should be accorded the same consideration and respect.
During my research I discovered that mademoiselle, or its language equivalent, has had a similar fate in the following countries:
- Switzerland – 1973
- Quebec – 1976
- Luxembourg – 2012
- Belgium – 2015
Now I shall leave it to you to introduce this subject into a dinner table conversation. That would be soooo very French.