Holy cow, I wrote a book!
My entry about Good-Bye, Lenin! appears to have turned into
a discussion of formal and informal terms of address in
various languages and cultures.
Sweden effectively abolished the "du"/"ni" distinction
in the 1970's during the so-called "du-reform",
getting rid of the formal "ni" and having everybody
address each other as "du" - even the king and prime minister.
(I'm told this is the same movement that also got people
to greet each other with a simple "Hej!")
There's a nice discussion of the du-reform from
I found it particularly interesting that
Swedes traditionally addressed anyone with a title by that title,
using the third person:
"Would the professor like more tea?"
Thus the use of "Ni" was slightly derogatory,
implying that one's interlocutor had no title or office worth bothering about.
Of course, I didn't discover this until I had already
addressed some people as "ni" and probably either
amused or insulted them.
In English, the use of third person address
as a substitute for "you" is
long gone, unless you intend to be obsequious
to the point of being insulting:
"Would the gentleman please take a seat."
(I believe German has a similar
"Wollen der Herr bitte Platz nehmen.")
It seems to me that
the use of the pure title as a form of direct address is largely
gone in American English, with the exceptions of Speaker of the House,
President, and Vice President,
who are still "Madame Speaker" or "Mr. [Vice] President".
Other public servants typically retain their office in addition to
their surname, such as "Governor Smith", "Senator Jones", or
In addition to public service,
there are still a handful of other environments where titles are still
used. Off the top of my head, I can think of religion
("Reverend Brown"), academia ("Professor Wilson"), medicine
("Dr. Miller"), and the military ("General Williams").
But you are not going to hear
"Mr. Night Shift Manager" or "Account Representative Harrison".