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Le Baiser by Robert Doisneau
How to date a Frenchman
I recently came across a blog called twentysomething tales, which I personally found captivating. It is written by a fellow North American who now lives in Paris with her French Manfriend, officially as a freelance writer but unofficially keeping an eye on things over there and reporting back.
A year into her bilingual cross-cultural relationship, Leonora this month set out a list of fifteen illuminating hints, called Things to Know About Dating French Boys. These weren’t so much advice on how one might go about getting with a Frenchman as what to expect once you have (as far as you can possibly tell) got him locked down, you lucky minx.
Here are a few of my favourites from Leo’s list:
- Truth: they tend to have no problem with PDA. If you're all about making out in front of grandmas on the subway, then there's no problem.
- He'll comment on your outfits (positively) and discuss style in general more than an American boy might.
- Unless he magically learned English from watching episodes of Full House on repeat, you'll likely have some language/accent issues like those seen in Broken English: Angry/hungry, happiness/a penis. I tend to find these confused moments to be hilarious and endearing. Some people don't have the patience.
I feel, seeing as I too am currently in a similar situation that it is my responsibility to add on a couple of crucial factors that Leo may have overlooked. Whether you just got off the Eurostar in search of Erasmus romance or you are knees deep and a few (blissful) years into…well, an Erasmus romance, here are a few more pointers.
In no particular order:
1. Le dressing. Don’t wear things that are “trop compliqués;” have too many patterns, textures, trends, or non-neutral colours.
I know I sound brainwashed –as though I’ve forgone my sartorial identity for some Gallic penchant for chic sobriety but hear me out.
Whenever I arrive back in London after a French jaunt I feel dizzy observing the mish mash of thingamagigs hanging off peoples’ bodies and hair.
And every time I try some kooky thang on before going out –even if I am only going to be seeing English people, I just cannot shake his calm, collected yet firm voice in my head, harsh only in its resonating truth:
“Ce qui est le plus simple est le plus sexy.” The simplest is the sexiest
Photographs of my days of “eccentric” English dressing, which I must admit I more than dabbled in during my Edinburgh University years, have begun to make me shudder.
Trust me. It is better this way. And cheaper too…all the blacks, greys and beiges mix and match wonderfully.
2. Don’t be offended if your homme expects you to be slightly okay with slipping into more traditional gender roles once in a while.
Just go with it. The way I see it, we’ve pretty much got women’s rights in the bag over here in the West, so you are OK to calm down and enjoy being a woman once in a while, non?
Allow me to illustrate with some examples.
Until you are really and truly in a long-term relationship with Frenchie in question, and are quite aware of one another’s financial situations, don’t push paying for things…
…I recently had a group of French boys in their early twenties candidly explain, after I enquired, naturally, for ‘research’s sake’, that it would simply be embarrassing for a girl to buy her drink, dinner, even pour her own wine on any of the first several dates. I cannot help but think back to my early gaffes. In my experience, insisting will earn you a blank, confused, in some cases even offended look.
Oh and if the idea of carrying your own luggage fills you with a thrilling surge of empowerment, you may as well stop reading now, and refer to next week’s How to date an American hipster.
3. Don’t be offended if nobody wants to celebrate Halloween with you.I know, this one’s hard to let go.
“It’s sacrilegious,” my repeatedly self-professed atheist (read: lapsed Catholic) mec recently exclaimed. What? Wearing stupid costumes? Stuffing your face with candy?
Actually, I realized, it sort of is. Less offensive, in modern France, to the declining institution of the Catholic church but more to the cultural devotion to the pillars of looking presentable and eating well.
4. Don’t be offended if it’s not socially acceptable to be fat. There, I said it.
5. Don’t be shocked if you go from being a total stranger to his grandmother’s confidante at family gatherings in a matter of weeks. French boys do move faster. Chances are if things are going well after the first date or two, you are his girlfriend. This is, as far as I’m concerned, the most defining difference between dating the French and English species.
6. Don’t be offended if people expect you to learn the language.
Going out with a native speaker is the best and easiest way anyway you lazy cow so go for it!
The thing is, once you do get a good grasp of conversational French, people suddenly are friendly. This is the most common misconception of the French by foreigners –that people want nothing to do with you because you are not one of them.
If you are too proud to learn through practice and a bit of effort -which will obviously require you to make some possibly embarrassing errors during the process- chances are you will struggle socially forever and never fully feel part of the dialogue. No one is going to risk missing out on a key point in the debate to be your voluntary personal translator, no matter how charming or attractive you may be. You will only understand what’s being discussed as a post resolution footnote, which can be indescribably frustrating.
Yet once you show that you are making an effort, the French, who are very proud of their language, are generally much happier to help you along.
7. Lastly, a more general note on understanding a particular cultural phenomenon which will help you in your daily interactions with both men and women; Don’t be offended if people stare at you. Embrace it.
Assuming you’ve followed the rest of my advice, you and your man will now be shacked up and well settled in your love studio in Saint Germain. My congratulations.
This final tip was first presented to me by my grandmother, who lived in a flat on the Ile Saint Louis when she was twenty one with her fiancé (my grandfather) once they’d reconnected after he was discharged from fighting in Italy. By the way they paid for this amazing pad with food ration coupons and a working understanding of how to use connections to their fullest potential. I am not joking.
Anyway that was obviously a very different time, but she told me this the summer before I was to live in Paris for the first time when I was nineteen and I still find it deeply relevant.
If a French woman is staring at you, and you meet her eye and she doesn’t avert her gaze in the manner that you are used to but continues to look you up and down, from the top of your nose to your tippie toes DON’T PANIC. Do not wince or cringe in the slightest. This is a huge compliment. In fact, the more stylish (read: intimidating) you find her appearance to be, the more you should take this eyeballing as compliment.
In France, there simply isn’t any shame in staring, as far as I can tell. Obviously, it’s not offensive if a man eyes you up either. If such a stare should be launched in your direction from an individual at whom you wouldn’t mind having a peek yourself, do so! Once you relax into it, you’ll realize that everyone else is doing the same thing. Plus such interactions make a long metro ride fly by. It’s remarkably fun and even potentially fruitful in your search for said French ManFriend if you have yet to find him. So what are you waiting for, vas-y meuf!
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