In a country where the “exclusivity talk” doesn’t exist, how do you even know you’re dating? In a city where a coffee date requires the fashion-attention of a formal dinner in America or Australia, what do you wear? In an arrondissement where it is completely acceptable to let your dog besmirch any public space it pleases, why do you get thrown out of the supermarche for walking around barefoot? Wait, that last one actually makes sense…
Anyway, the question for wannabe-parisiens, burgeoning bordelais and aspiring avignonnais is this: how do you go about dating in France? Whether you’re a tourist with a bar job, a mid-life cris-ee with a visa, or an exchange student with a Hemingway complex, this article will (try) to help you find love. Or at least to understand why you are currently struggling. How? With the help of a French dating coach, Adeline Breon.
Take them with a grain of salt (and a cheese filled baguette), but these rules should help you on your search for love. We look at French dating culture.
If You Really Like Someone, Stop Playing The Field
In France, there’s no such thing as casual dating. So if you’ve been on a few dates with someone you like: Congrats! They probably like you too. On the flip side: if you thought you’d been having casual sex with someone, it might not be as “no strings” as you thought. As Adeline told us, “The biggest difference (between the US and France) is that in France we don’t have this ‘casual dating period’ before any serious relationship, where it’s basically ok to date several people at the same time—and to keep your options open while you try things out with one or several people.”
“In the French culture, we only date one person at a time from day one, so we’re exclusive right away.”
If There’s No Chemistry, Expect To Get Dumped
Just because there’s no casual dating it doesn’t mean that if you’re seeing someone, they are super serious about you; it just means they’re probably not seeing other people at the same time. Consequently, in France, people don’t waste their time ‘getting to know’ someone they don’t really like—and have no qualms ending a mediocre relationship.
Work Things Out For Yourself
Adeline told us, “We don’t have ‘the talk’ like they do in the US to decide if we’re exclusive or not” (because if you’re dating it’s assumed you are). Having said that, she said things have changed a lot in France in the last few years—with the arrival and massive use of online dating—so now, “It’s important to also look at circumstances before assuming you’re in a relationship, because there is way more casual dating in France now than there used to be.”
Either way: a great way to identify yourself as an uncultured Aussie bogan or American frat bro is to directly ask, “What are we?” In France you’re expected to read the “circumstances” of your relationship to work out whether or not it’s casual.
You’ll Meet Parents Earlier Than You’re Used To
“In France,” Adeline said, “We tend to let the other person in our life way faster and things tend to get ‘serious’ way faster than in the US.” Also, “When you start dating someone it’s pretty common to meet each other’s friends and family pretty early on—contrary to the US—where meeting the family usually comes after quite a while of being in a relationship and has a lot of pressure on it.”
“Same with sharing feelings; it usually comes way earlier in France than in the US and there is definitely way less pressure around it.”
If You Kiss Someone You May Have Inadvertently Started A Relationship
Unless that kiss takes place on a night club dance floor, “Usually in the French culture if you kiss someone then yes: you’re now in a relationship.”
But If You Think You’re In A Relationship: You Could Still Be Wrong
Adeline emphasised that—as in much of the rest of the world—things have changed quite a lot in the last few years, as people have become more open minded and embraced trends like online dating.
“Now it’s essential to look at circumstances before assuming you’re in a relationship, especially in big cities such as Paris.”
To help you work this out, she said, “We can basically separate things into two situations: If it’s someone you’ve been talking to for quite a while, have been on several dates with (real dates, not ‘let’s watch a movie at home’ kinda dates), that is consistent (not on and off), that you can see a progression in the frequency of texting / calling / dates, then yes, you can assume you’re now in a relationship.”
However, “If it’s someone you just met (online or in a bar for example) and kissed on the first or second date, or if it’s someone that has a very on and off behaviour (text a lot for a few days, then no news for a few days), then no, you should not assume that you’re now in a relationship.”
“A lot has changed since the arrival and massive use of online dating where people can very easily talk to and date several people at the same time. Now people want to explore their options way more and are way pickier, they tend to be looking for perfection and don’t take the time to really get to know someone (both in the US and in France) which can make it way harder for people looking for a serious relationship to find the relationship they want.”
When It’s Casual, Things Happen Fast—Or Not At All
“When it’s going to be super casual, things usually happen very fast—or they don’t happen at all,” Adeline said. If it’s casual, “There’s not much texting / calling, they don’t really try to get to know you, they don’t put too much efforts into it (it’s usually ‘let’s hang out at home’ last minutes dates instead of ‘Let’s go out for dinner’ planned in advanced dates), and you can see that you’re not part of their life.”
When It’s Serious, Things Develop Steadily
There are exceptions to every rule, but in Adeline says, for the most part, “When it’s the beginning of a serious relationship, you can clearly see that the other person is into it, there’s texting / calling quite often in between dates, you see each other quite often, you meet their friends, they include you in their life and in their future (like making plans together for next summer for example), they ask you questions about you, your life and your plans and they include you in their future plans.”
You’re Foreignness Is A Ready-Made Wingman—But Use Your Powers For Good
“A lot of French people love to travel,” Adeline says, “So talking about life in the US or Australia and asking questions about France is definitely a good way to start a conversation.” For example, you could start by asking the sultry eyes at the bar for some recommendations about the neighbourhood; “Then start talking about how it’s different from in the US/Australia.”
“When people are just looking for a casual fling, it’s best they let the other person know so that there’s no misunderstanding.”
Save Dinner For The Second Date
When asking someone out, Adeline suggests figuring out what you have in common (or something they really enjoy) and use that to ask them out. “For example if you both love art, you could mention that you have tickets for an art exhibit and ask if she’d like to join. This is a great way to spend some time together, but it doesn’t really feel like a date so there will be less pressure. Then, if the first date goes great it will be easy to ask her out on a more formal date.”
Body Language Is More Important Than Your French Grammar Skills (Or Lack Thereof)
A good attitude will get you a lot further than your mastery of all fifty million subjunctive verb tenses that exist within the French language. Think about it: no one cares how smart you are if you’re a bit of a tool. Or boring. As Adeline told us, “Body language is way more important than what we actually say, so having an open body language definitely helps.”
“Confidence and a good sense of humor are also some of the most attractive traits someone can have, especially in dating, so it’s good to keep that in mind. And of course compliments, if well given, are always great!”
Having said that: making an effort to learn the language will go a long way towards increasing your chances. But it’s more about the effort than the result (which you’ll find out after 10 minutes of humiliating yourself, when she casually reveals that she speaks perfect English. Doh.)
Don’t Dress Like A French Guy
Sorry to crush your dreams, but carrying a baguette around under your arm all day will just make it taste like sweat. And pretentiousness. As Adeline says, “It’s always best to just be yourself (unless you have terrible fashion sense, in which case check out this guide).”
But Also: Don’t Dress Like A Slob
Although Adeline is all down with the whole, “You do you galfriend,” vibe, she said you should definitely, “Dress for the occasion and for the place.”
“So basically, if you’re Australian or American, don’t try to ‘look’ like a French man, just be yourself, but you can definitely try to adapt to the occasion and to the place at the same time.”
“For example,” she said, “People in the US tend to dress way more casually than Parisian people so if you’re going on an afternoon coffee date with a Parisian girl, you could wear what you would usually wear on a night date with a girl in California—so (for example) a pair of jeans with a nice shirt and nice shoes. This way it’s still you and your style will definitely ‘fit in’ with the occasion and for the place.”