Ryan Chartrand

You meet someone at a party, in a class, through mutual friends. Go out to dinner or on a coffee date or two. Suffer through the somewhat awkward and confusing “what are we” phase. After a few weeks the conversation of commitment arises and after a mutual agreement, you and your newfound infatuation decided to be boyfriend and girlfriend. This is what most American 20-somethings know as dating.

I’d like to think that before I decided to take a year off from Cal Poly and move to France, I had this system down pretty well. However, after breaking into the social scene in Paris, I realized this meant nothing. Much to my surprise, I’ve learned that Americans are the only ones that have a significant dating system.

In the past five months I’ve adapted to living in a big city, speaking a foreign language, eating absurd amounts of ham and cheese, and being stereotyped as “that blonde girl from California.” I was well aware of the notorious reputation of French men, but after my arrival in Paris I was surprised about the way they woo women. I never expected that French “dating” would be so different.

So here’s the scene: I’ll go out with some of my girlfriends to a local bar where we usually find ourselves approached by French men, as well as the occasional foreigner. Sometimes we can’t help but laugh when we hear the same pick-up line for the 100th time: “I think you are very charming.I would like to get to know you.perhaps we could get a coffee.I want to kiss you.” NO! I don’t know you, you are not kissing me and no thanks on that coffee. These are the words that usually flow from my mouth in my mangled French after a complete stranger approaches me in such a manner.

I guess I find this so shocking because I like to think that American men have at least some tact (no offense, guys) and would never approach a girl like this. Although, I have discovered that the French handle rejection a lot better than their American counterparts. Telling someone “no” will sometimes lead to their incessant questions in their attempt to win over a girl. “Where are you from? Oh, California . San Francisco or L.A.?”

I do have to give some of the men credit; not all French guys are so upfront and desperate. However, the decent ones I’ve met have tended to be somewhat obsessive. All girls love attention and the occasional compliment, but there is nothing attractive about incessant and overwhelming text messages and phone calls from someone you hardly know.

I once met this French rugby player whom, by the time I had come home for the night, had already put on his game face. I came home with text messages on my phone asking me to coffee the next morning. This caught me off-guard and was quite the opposite of what I was used to. (By this I mean a contrast to most American guys who ask a girl for her number and either never plan on calling, or decide to play the waiting game for days and days.) Two casual dinners later and I found myself being practically stalked by this guy. Every time I would choose to spend time with my friends and not with him, he would get upset. I felt like I was arguing over such trivial and insignificant matters with someone I thought of merely as a friend. A bit distressed about the situation I decided to speak with two French girlfriends of mine. After I told them that I went to dinner with this guy a few times and now he wouldn’t leave me alone they said: “Well you know, you are his girlfriend.” WHAT?? I was dating the French rugby player and didn’t even know it. As I was soon to learn, there is no discussion of dating or being exclusive with someone in France like in the U.S. There is really only the unwritten rule that dating doesn’t exist – it’s all or nothing. So now I found myself having to break up with my supposed “boyfriend,” which I found absurd to have to do in the first place. I guess this is why it’s called a language barrier.

Even after I’ve had other foreign friends tell me how characteristic the “dating” system is to the United States, I wonder why many Europeans find our methods so obscure. I mean, would you really want to be attached to someone as their boyfriend/girlfriend if you hardly knew them? I guess it’s all of these subtle differences that account for misunderstood and misinterpreted cultural differences.

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