Dating in France: A Guide to Cultural Nuances
One of the most confusing transitions into Paris has been in the realm of dating. First of all, the word “date” and the concept of “dating” does not really exist here. In a nutshell, you go out and if you like each other there are a few more RDVs (rendezvous) and then you are in a relationship. No exaggeration—this has happened to me accidentally.
I have to admit it is kind of refreshing change of pace from NY since there you could be dating a guy for six months and still not know where you stand. Saying that, I prefer the American concept of dating vs. the process of the automatic relationship here in France. I mean, I believe you do need to shop around and not settle for the first guy you go out with or kiss. It seems that some Americans who move here are so disenchanted and jaded by American dating, especially New Yorkers, that they jump into relationships too quickly because they may have been starved from it back home.
For those of you in the singles scene in Paris, here are the top three things that I have learned.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU...KNOW ALL ABOUT YOU
As I eluded to earlier, the concept of dating does not exist here and I am still confused to what I am doing when I go out with the same man several times. Of course, we are getting to know each other, but that is exactly what it is called, “getting to know you.” Sometimes a first GTKY session can be a meeting for drinks or dinner, going for a walk, an outing with their friends. Thankfully, I have placed out of group outings because that has no appeal to me whatsoever as a first date option.
Whatever the rendezvous is, the purpose is to learn more about you and overall compatibility. Some things to talk about when you first meet—who you are as a person, what you like to do, what interests you, your background, family…you know, the usual. More importantly, things you should avoid talking about at all costs—NEVER, EVER, EVER, bring up how much money you make, how successful you are, your job and vice versa. It is not a “they don’t want you to be empowered” thing, the topic here is just taboo and considered gauche. I can see both sides—I mean, it is nice to talk about yourself as a person vs. just about what you do for work since your job should not define you. At the same time, I also like knowing my potential partner’s hopes, dreams, ambitions and views of their future. Personally I cannot be with someone who is not as passionate and ambitious as I am—for me, that is as important as the things the French culture finds important. As they say, you can take the girl out of New York, but you can’t take the New York out of the girl.
This getting to know each other period can either be slow paced or fast paced. Whatever the pace, always remember…
A KISS IS NOT JUST A KISS
In full candor, I learned this the hard way. In some circles, once you kiss here, you are automatically in a relationship. I remember when I first started living here and was telling my friend about a date I just had, she stopped me, grabbed my hands, looked me dead set in the eyes and said, “Please tell me you didn’t kiss him!” Here, kissing means that they really like you, potentially see a future with you and want to move forward in officially dating you, so be careful where you plant those lips! There are exceptions to this rule, but for the most part when you start seeing someone and you kiss, you are probably the only person he or she is kissing. And if you go further than that, consider yourself in a full-blown relationship!
Another important thing to note for all you Americans reading this—There. Is. No. Talk. Back home, everyone dreads the part where we must define the relationship. It is usually an awkward conversation that comes up when a woman drops some passive aggressive hints. If that was the worst part of dating for you, you are in luck as DTR is not in their vocabulary! You are not hallucinating and I am not making this up—once they are in, they are in. The French believe that there's a mutual understanding after a kiss or successful rendezvous. So if you have not kissed yet, there is nothing wrong with you, it's normal. In France, pretty much once you’ve exchanged a kiss, it’s expected of you to be exclusive; you don’t chase many women or men at the same time. To them, exclusivity isn’t something that needs discussion—it’s just assumed that you are together. A friend of mine told me that when she asked her boyfriend if he was her boyfriend his response was “I thought I have been for months”. Talk about culture clash. So, for those of you with the "try before you buy" mentality, you better make sure you are only trying what you see a future in buying or be prepared to have some difficult conversations.
TO PAY OR NOT TO PAY, THAT IS THE QUESTION
This is the one thing that baffles me the most with French culture—who pays on the date. Though I am an independent, liberated woman who can pay for her own meals, I do believe when you start dating a man, there is a courting period and the man should pay during this aforementioned courting period. Some people would call it an archaic social construct, but I call it proper manners and upbringing. Yes, I pay my own bills; Yes, I provide for myself; Yes, I take myself out for dinner and have taken my past boyfriends out to dinner; but I do find it tacky and also hard for me to respect a man if he asks me to pay on the first date or during the courting period. All I can say is that if I go out with someone who does not pay for the first date, there will most definitely not be a second. This seems to be a controversial topic with several viewpoints.
In consulting with a few of my female friends here, they all say that it is the case to split or share the bill or as the French say it, “partager”, because it celebrates women’s independence. They also noted that they don't agree with it, but have resigned themselves to the fact that is the way they do it here. I personally think this is some BS excuse some guy made up to be cheap and get out of paying for dates, but that's just my two cents! It also seems that some native French women here feel that they owe the man something if they allow him to pay for dinner. It is sad that women still feel that way in this day and age and hopefully the #TIMESUP movement is helpful in making this mentality something of the past. For firsthand experiences, I've been on dates where my dates have brought up DURING THE ACTUAL DATE that it is a problem for him to pay. Just to level set here, these occurrences mostly happened on the first date and we are not talking Michelin Star tasting menus. Can you say awkward?
Batting for Team America...the topic came up with my French teacher inadvertently. Our lesson is structured of mostly conversation and she had asked what I had done the previous weekend. I told her about a date that I had gone on. To show you how appalled she was, it is important you know that she only speaks French to me during our sessions and never deviates from this rule, as she believes in 100% immersive learning. When I was telling her about my date her face went lifeless, she stopped the lesson and began to speak to me in English. She looked at me and said, “No, that is not the way we do that here. A respectful man should pay and whoever is telling you that is not worth your time. Maybe in university…yes, you split the bill, but a grown man should never let you pay the check. Never.” I began to tell her what my female friends had told me about the men wanting us to be empowered and supporting the women’s movement. Her response, “That is absolutely false and I am disgusted by these people. Any proper French man will not accept your money. Period.” In speaking to some of my male friends and friend’s significant others, they all agree that the man should pay during the dating period. One of my close French male friends here laughed and said, "Well, now with this 'Me Too' movement.... But seriously, Yes, it is nice when the woman offers, but a proper gentleman should never accept."
So there you have it, a country divided!
Dating in France is not hard, but it is different, for better or for worse depending on your belief system and what you are looking for. Stay tuned for my Dating in France segment where I explore how to navigate the dating sites and the type of men you will meet and should avoid. Until then, à bientôt!