Long gone is the stereotypical Frenchman with a curly mustache and a beret (although the hipster ‘stache is alive and well in France). Gone also is the French woman with red lips and a striped shirt holding a long cigarette in one hand and a baguette in the other. Through their new networks of French acquaintances, AUCP students can easily find themselves face to face with a young Frenchman or woman that is interested in him or her. It’s a very real situation that students are faced with when abroad, and even more often thanks to the language partner requirement at the AUCP and the degree of immersion that the AUCP program provides. During orientation at the AUCP, we spend a day discussing what we call Français affectif, or emotional French, in order to demystify the ins and outs of dating in France.
So, what to do? What are the rules of the game?
Well, when in France, do as the French do. A few tips to make things easier:
1. There is a reason the French have a reputation for not smiling
A smile is an invitation, as if you had a giant sign above your head flashing, « Come talk to me! I’m smiling at you so that means I like you! » Don’t be surprised if you smile at someone at a bus stop, in a store or at a bar, and afterwards, that person comes right up and begins to hit on you or draguer, or asks for your phone number. It happens, really.
2. A kiss is not just a kiss
If you and Philippe have been hanging out consistently for a few weeks and it leads to a stolen kiss in a bar one evening, do not be surprised if he calls you his girlfriend the next day. Because as soon as a Frenchman plants a kiss on your lips, the two of you are a couple. In general the French remain rather romantic at heart. While in the US, there is a tendency of wanting to feel things out a bit longer before putting a label on a relationship, the French are not afraid of labels and short term or long term doesn’t matter. If the « girlfriend/boyfriend » status only lasts a week, well then that’s that. But you were indeed Philippe’s girlfriend, for one whole week.
3. I love you, already.
The French pride themselves on being romantic. We’ve heard of guys showering their girls with delicious, home-cooked meals, whisking them away for romantic get-aways to the countryside, and declaring their love within days or weeks of meeting. But, pay attention to what kind of « je t’aime » your beau or belle is saying.
Je t’aime bien: I like you a lot
Je t’aime beaucoup : I like you a lot (a bit stronger)
In either case, a potential love interest would be quite disappointed to hear it, as it is definitely friend-zone.
I love you is simple, Je t’aime. And if you want to add adjectives, add tellement (very much) or à la folie (like crazy).
4. Don’t expect your Chérie to show up on time.
The French, and more specifically those from the South of France, are notorious for being late. When she finally does show up 15 minutes late, she’ll just shrug as if it’s perfectly normal. There is even a name for it – le quart d’heure de politesse! Plan on waiting a few minutes for her to show up, just to be sure.
5. Don’t expect plans
Spontaneity is key. Don’t expect a phone call on Tuesday for a dinner and drinks invitation on Saturday night. Instead they’ll text you and say they’re around the corner right now and ask if you want to come down and get a drink. Of course, this means you have to look fabulous all the time, just in case. You never know!
6. No doesn’t always mean no
When French men like you, they’ll make sure you know it. If Philippe thinks Marie-Claire is cute, and asks her to go out for coffee, her non doesn’t necessarily mean no. It could very well mean “maybe”, “convince me” or “try harder.” Frenchmen are used to Frenchwomen playing hard to get, and will often ask several times. If your non really means “NO! PERIOD, ” try your best not to get annoyed or angry. Simply continue to refuse politely and firmly, turn your back and if he still doesn’t stop, simply ignore him.
If a French woman doesn’t say yes right away when you ask her out, it doesn’t necessarily mean she doesn’t want to go out with you. You may have to ask more than once. Of course, there’s a very fine line between more than once and harassing, and this line will depend from one individual to another. Be smart! You’ll have to be the judge of whether a a non is flirtatious or an « absolutely not. » This of course, has nothing to do with consent, simply with asking someone to go out. As far as consent is concerned, no ALWAYS means no!
7. Don’t wait to call
In the US, many people still stand by the archaic « three-day rule, » or waiting three days after a date before calling a woman back. In the US, A lot of times a woman can lose interest in a man if he calls her too much. In France, this is the opposite. If you have met a guy and have spent time with him, the fact that he’s calling or texting a lot means he is genuinely interested, not necessarily that he is a stalker. If he doesn’t call however, it means that he’s just not that into you. Simple.
8. Be confident. Odds are, that’s all you need.
Don’t worry if you make mistakes when speaking French. Many of the French think accents are cute! And, your potential beau or belle is simply the best motivation there is to speaking better French. Making mistakes is how you learn and progress in French, and added bonus, it makes you all the more endearing to the person you’re speaking with. So, speak with confidence, and don’t let embarrassment get in your way.
Most importantly, have fun! Exploring a new culture through dating is one of the best ways to learn. Enjoy it, don’t stress and who knows? Maybe you’ll find that your beau or belle just might stick around. If not, it will still be an experience to remember for a lifetime.