From how to interpret that all-important first kiss to what to expect from your French in-laws, here’s all you need to know about dating in France.
Contrary to popular belief, not all French women are high-maintenance fashionistas who are obsessed with their looks. Nor are all French men smooth-talking womanizers who will say anything to get you in bed. However, while it’s always wise to take such cultural stereotypes with a pinch of salt and not generalize an entire nation, no one can deny that there are certain traits you are likely to come across when dating in France.
Understanding these traits and the mindset of French men and women is key to dating as an expat. After all, different cultures around the world have a different appreciation of the qualities that make someone a desirable mate. What might be considered romantic, attractive, or polite in your culture might not be well received in another. With this in mind, this helpful guide is here to help with the following information:
- An overview of dating in France
- How to meet people in France
- Dating etiquette in France
- Dating behavior in France
- Moving into a relationship in France
- The role of the family in dating
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An overview of dating in France
When it comes to dating, the French like to play by their own rules and these differ significantly from other European cultures. While this may take some getting used to as an expat, it can also pose an exciting challenge. Believe it or not, the French usually don’t date per se. While cultural stereotypes would have you believe that they are the masters of romance and seduction, the reality is actually quite different. Sure, it might be true that both French men and women are generally confident by nature and not afraid to go for what they want. But how they approach the world of dating is arguably far less aggressive than some other cultures.
For one, the French tend to dislike making a date obviously romantic and prefer for dating to play a much smaller role in their lives. Unlike in some countries, where people focus their efforts on pursuing partners via one-to-one interactions in potentially romantic settings, French men and women choose to keep things casual and incorporate finding love into their social lives. This means that it won’t necessarily be just the two of you going on a date. In fact, the French word for a date itself – rendez-vous – literally means ‘meeting you’. Here, the ‘you’ actually refers to people in the plural form. So don’t go expecting any romantic moonlit strolls or kisses along the River Seine just yet!
How to meet people in France
Although the French attitude towards dating differs from other European cultures, the ways in which people meet are generally the same. That said, the French certainly have their own preferences.
Dating within social circles
Generally speaking, the French tend to meet their partners through social circles or friends. In fact, this remains the most popular way to meet people in France. Men and women enjoy going to dinner parties on the weekends where both singles and those in relationships meet together to have pleasant cultural conversations. In other countries, if you happen to meet a nice man or woman on such an occasion and find each other interesting, you would most likely expect a date.
However, in France, things go a little differently. The French way is to invite you on a walk or a catch-up with friends. This will likely be a laid-back affair too; so don’t be too surprised if you receive a last-minute invitation.
Dating apps and websites
Because French men and women prefer to meet people through their social circles, they rarely go on blind dates and prefer to get to know each other in person. That said, Internet dating sites are surprisingly popular in France for men and for women. In fact, 38% of the French men and women polled in the Statista’s Global Consumer Survey in 2019 said they used online dating sites or apps. Furthermore, 56% of men aged 25–34 years old and 68% of women from the same age group had already experienced both romantic and sexual relationships with someone they had met online. In addition, about half of those questioned considered it possible to encounter one’s soulmate online. This suggests that online dating is not only an accepted way to meet a partner in France, it is also taken quite seriously.
As a result, there are now hundreds of different dating sites on the Internet in France; all designed to match sexual or romantic partners. Tinder, Bumble, and Happn continue to remain popular among the millennial generation. Meanwhile, older adults are turning more to paid online dating services to find relationships. The most popular of these are Badoo (which 42% of respondents use) and Meetic.fr (with 33%). The latter also happens to be among the top five most downloaded dating apps in France.
Another way to meet people in France is to join Meetup groups and attend local events. There are numerous groups throughout the country that cater to various hobbies and interests. Many of these are specifically designed for singles who are interested in dating, too. These groups provide a fun and safe way to meet people and develop both friendships and relationships. They usually cater to specific age groups and sexual preferences too, so members can meet like-minded individuals.
Dating etiquette in France
The French like to play by their own rules and this transcends to dating etiquette too. For instance, the kinds of dates you might go on during the initial stages of getting to know someone can be unique.
A typical dating scenario in France
In many western cultures, a typical dating scenario usually involves meeting for a drink, going out for dinner, or catching a movie at the cinema. In France, however, dating can look very different. For instance, sharing a meal with someone has no romantic implication in France. In fact, it is considered normal for two people of the opposite sex to enjoy dining together; even if one is single and the other is married or in a relationship.
Instead, the French prefer to keep things casual during the initial stages of getting to know someone. This means that dates will likely involve meeting up for casual drinks with a group of friends or taking an afternoon stroll. However, this shouldn’t be interpreted as a sign that a man or woman isn’t interested in having a romantic relationship. It just means that they are more focused on getting to know a person before they become involved. And if they do want a relationship, they will certainly let their partner know about it. After all, the French are renowned for being direct when it comes to matters of the heart.
Dating behavior in France
While it might be unfair to stereotype a whole nation, there are certain behavioral traits that you are likely to come across when dating in France. Furthermore, these can differ significantly from other European countries.
Flirting and body language
The French might like to keep things non-romantic but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for flirting – and plenty of it. Whether you are single or not, you should expect to see a lot of amorous behavior being thrown around; regardless of marital status. You might say that flirting is an art form in this playful nation; this goes for both sexes, too. French women, for instance, are expected to play to their feminine side and be admired for their beauty and wit. They might smile in excess, blush, and laugh at your jokes, all the while playing with their hair. French men, meanwhile, regard flirting as a harmless game; even if they know very well it won’t lead anywhere. Interestingly, many find the game more important than the catch.
This flair for flirting is important to be aware of as an expat, as it can sometimes give the wrong idea. Just because a man or a woman is flirting doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is interested or available. To avoid any confusion, it is better to just ask them directly.
Playing it cool
Surprisingly, the French like to keep a cool distance and not appear too eager when it comes to getting to know a potential love interest. This can often mean turning up ‘fashionably late’ to a date. In fact, the French even have an expression for being tardy – le quart d’heure de politesse. This literally translates to the quarter of an hour of politeness. So don’t take this as a sign that they aren’t interested; on the contrary, it’s quite the opposite. Just make sure you stick around long enough to see them show up, to be sure. And don’t expect him to arrive with a bunch of flowers, either. Such a gesture might be seen as overly romantic and an indication that you are officially dating – which of course the French don’t do!
The first kiss
Generally speaking, French men don’t tend to initiate any type of physical contact on a first date. And when they finally do, they will usually ask for permission first. This is largely due to the fact that in France, kissing on the lips for the first time carries far more weight than in some other countries. In fact, it is seen as a type of unwritten agreement that you are starting an exclusive relationship with someone. It is therefore not a good idea to kiss someone if you do not want to be in a relationship with them; after all, this can give off the wrong signal and create misunderstanding. Because of this aspect of French culture, it is easy to see how the pace at which a relationship might develop is much slower than in some other countries.
You can generally expect a certain level of intelligence and culture when dating the French. Therefore, the idea of sipping a café au lait by the Seine while discussing politics isn’t totally out of the question. In fact, politics is an important topic of conversation in France and is likely to pop up at some point. So, it’s not a bad idea to read a newspaper from time to time to keep up with current affairs.
Splitting the bill
Talking about money is generally considered vulgar by French people. As a result, splitting the bill at the end of a meal isn’t common practice. Usually, the man will pay for dinner on the first date, and the woman might pay the next time; but splitting it would simply be seen as tacky. This is good news if you value your independence and want to feel like an equal when dating someone.
Acts of chivalry
Fortunately for women, chivalry is certainly not dead in France. French citizens generally pride themselves on their hospitality and manners. So when it comes to dating, men will usually hold the door open for women, make sure they get home safely, and so on. Aside from good manners, there is another reason for this. In France, women tend to decide if they are dating a person or not, which means that the man is expected to work hard to win her over. And because it might take her several dates before she decides whether she wants to have a relationship with date him or not, the groundwork is fairly significant. This perhaps explains why French men have a reputation for being charming and tenacious with women.
Moving into a relationship in France
How a relationship might typically progress in France is really down to the individuals involved – or rather, the woman. And even when a couple has officially become exclusive and sealed the deal with that all-important first kiss, there are still no rules as to when to get intimate or meet the family.
Just like kissing for the first time, sleeping with someone is arguably seen as more meaningful in France. The French may be the masters of flirtation, but their true affection is actually more reserved than you might expect. This is because people are more focused on getting to know someone; therefore, sleeping together is seen as expressing a deeper form of affection. The good news is that because the French believe in being honest and open when it comes to dating, there is no shame in discussing getting intimate first, too.
Meeting friends and family
French people generally like to maintain their independence, so it could be some time before you are introduced to their family and friends. You shouldn’t take this as a sign of dissatisfaction, though. It is more down to the fact that men and women prefer to keep their dating lives private; especially in the initial stages of a relationship. However, you can assume that once they do invite you to meet their family and friends, the relationship has become serious. After all, French families are generally very private and only the most intimate friends tend to join gatherings.
Living together and getting married
Interestingly, not all aspects of dating in France are so traditional. Since the mid-2000s, for instance, the proportion of married couples in the country has been declining. Figures from online portal Statista show that there were 235,000 marriages in 2018, compared to more than 278,000 in 2004. This indicated that marriage does not appear to be the preferred mode of union among the French.
Indeed, an increasing number of couples are choosing to not get married or enter a civil partnership but simply live together instead. In fact, research shows that over half a million couples (550,000) in France begin living together long-term every year; whereas only 240,000 partners tie the knot, and 164,000 arrange a civil partnership. Similarly, the number of unmarried couples living together has increased tenfold since the 1960s; from just 2.9% in 1962 to 26% in 2015. This suggests that attitudes are becoming more modern.
Interestingly, the number of same-sex marriages in France is also gradually decreasing; from 10,000 in 2014 (a year after it was legalized in France) to only 6,000 in 2018. More couples are choosing to have civil partnerships instead, and there were 7,000 signed in 2017 alone. Despite all of these trends, France still had the second-highest number of marriages in Europe in 2016; after Germany which had 41,000. So when compared to neighboring countries, you could say that France remains somewhat traditional in a sense.
The role of the family in dating
In French culture, great importance is placed on family. Therefore, as the partner of a French man or woman, you can expect to spend a significant amount of time with your French in-laws. The relationships between family members remain close, even into adulthood. Relatives tend to live reasonably close to each other and meet weekly for dinners and so on.
Raising children in France
When it comes to parenting in France, men and women tend to take a stricter approach than in some other cultures. They don’t indulge their children, but rather encourage them to be model citizens by enforcing order and teaching them acceptable behavior. They also place a greater emphasis on adhering to attitudes and values that conform to social norms instead of individuality. This remains the norm, despite the significant changes in society; such as the increase in single-parent homes, children born out of marriage, and the rise in working mothers. As an expat, this might take some getting used to; especially if you come from a culture that has a more laid-back approach to parenting.
Gender roles in the family home
In terms of gender roles in the family home, France isn’t as progressive as you might expect. Despite the country having one of the highest percentages of women in the workforce, research shows that domestic work and caring for children is still predominantly carried out by women.
Furthermore, as many as 50% of people in France think that women are better able to respond to the needs and expectations of children than fathers. And despite the fact that nearly all French women engage in paid labor, many are still expected to fulfill gender-stereotypical roles such as cooking, cleaning, and raising children. Such expectations place a lot of pressure on women. In this respect, France remains somewhat contradictory when it comes to the role of women in today’s society.