A few days ago, as an American friend of mine was telling me all about her new boyfriend and how he had asked her out with flowers, I realized how different courtship and dating is for teens in France and the US. In France, we only have exclusive relationships. Americans go on formal dates; we keep things secret. Americans only say “I love you” after months of dating. The dating cultures are just so different. Here are the four main differences I think would surprise Americans about French dating culture:
1. Dates don’t exist.
The word “date” has no equivalent in French, and it’s simply because we don’t go on them.
You might wonder how people get to know each other then. Well, we usually go out in groups and meet within this social group. Then, things kind of just happen. If you are already friends with the guy, you just spend more time together, get a coffee after school or share a meal at your apartment, and flirt a little bit. If you just met at a party, well, you kiss, and things evolve naturally.
When they spend time alone together, the girl and the boy don’t go out for dinner, they just go for a walk or chill at home, which is really different from the formal dating process I see in American movies.
2. We don’t ask people out, especially if we don’t know them well.
When I was visiting California this summer, a cashier from Brandy Melville asked me out on a date while I was buying a t-shirt. My first reaction was to laugh at him because it seemed so absurd that someone (let alone a cashier my age with whom I had only spoken three words) was asking me on a date. You will never, in France, find a guy you don’t know show any romantic interest in you if you have not been introduced by a mutual friend. And when we do ask our love interest if he wants to have a relationship, it’s because we already kissed or at least gotten really close.
3. There’s no such thing as DTR (Defining The Relationship) because exclusivity is implied.
Once two people kiss while sober (French teenagers drink a lot, as it’s legal), they can already consider the other one as their boyfriend/girlfriend, and assume the relationship is going to be exclusive — there’s no need to define it.
When you kiss at a party, things are a little bit different: You might need to talk about what happened the night before and decide if you want to be an item or not. But, once again, if the relationship is going to happen, it’s going to be exclusive.
Furthermore, French teenagers keep their relationships very private. The boyfriend/girlfriend gets introduced to the family only if the couple has been dating for a few months, and we usually don’t talk about our love life with our parents. A couple doesn’t need to make their relationship public; lots of people keep it a secret for weeks to see if it’s working before even telling their closest friends. The privacy of teenagers’ relationship is noticeable when you walk in Paris streets: You will rarely witness two young people show a lot of affection for each other. We keep that for private spaces, or once again, parties.
4. “I love you” is not such a big thing.
The French language doesn’t make a difference between “like” and “love” (the verb for both is aimer), which makes it very easy to avoid the whole “I love you” drama that exists in America.
“Je t’aime”/”I love you” is usually pronounced after a month of dating and is not a big deal, even though it makes us happy when said. But it doesn’t matter who says it first, when, or why.
And when “je t’aime” becomes a regular sentence pronounced in the relationship, it will also be kept private: I’ve never heard some of my friends who have been together for years say “I love you” to each other.
Voilà! Our cultural differences start from the little things, and I find it beyond intriguing to see how the country we live in influences even the way we act in our love life. It’s all about social codes, and I hope you enjoyed learning about the ones of where I’m from!
Héloïse Hakimi is a 16-year-old from Paris, France. She dreams of moving to the States to make French culture more known. She could also eat at Chipotle everyday, and watch her favorite shows live, and go to concerts while studying at NYU or UCLA.