Love, Marriage & Partnership

Dating in Europe: first date etiquette

The dating game is hard enough, even when you know the rules. How is dating in Europe when you don’t know how the game is played? Here’s a guide to expat dating in Europe.

Dating in Europe

By Expatica

Updated 22-4-2024

The dating game is hard enough in your home country. But it can be even trickier if you’re navigating an international dating scene without knowing how the game is played. Here’s a guide to take you through dating in Europe.

To gather real accounts of the European dating scene, we asked around 500 (mostly, but not exclusively, heterosexual) expats living in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland a series of personal questions about themselves, their relationships, and their sex lives.

Of course, every relationship is different and how yours develops will depend on who you both are and the chemistry between you. If you like each other, you’ll probably find a way to make it work, regardless of any cultural variations.

But knowing some of the cultural differences – who makes the first move, kissing on a first date, how soon to call after a date – may help you avoid awkward situations, or at least stop you from getting hurt or hurting someone else unintentionally.

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Getting to know someone in Europe

In Europe, getting to know someone romantically is fairly laid back. People don’t tend to go on dates with complete strangers, but instead often get to know someone who’s already in their circle or the friend of a friend (or maybe they met online). Then, it just happens and they decide to go out together alone. Think friends-turned-lovers.

Couple on a coffee date together
Photo: ti-ja/Getty Images

There aren’t too many rigid rules, either: “in the Netherlands, there are no set rules; you might do all or nothing on the first or tenth date,” and, “the timescale between the first date and having sex in France could be anything from 20 years to 20 seconds,” said European expats.

Making the first move while dating in Europe

In Belgium, France, and Germany, it’s common for the man to ask a woman out. However, in Switzerland, the men can be a little reserved so women might want to give them a nudge.

For French men, it’s all about the chase, and playing hard to get is part of the game. Maintain eye contact when someone interests you; if you aren’t, don’t. If you say no to an invitation, he may well think you’re playing hard to get and will probably persist. In case you really aren’t interested, then be very clear and tell him politely but firmly. The hints that might work back home might not work in France.

The Spanish have a reputation as romantic and passionate people. If a woman shows too much interest too soon, she may scare a man away. As in France, a game of chase and refusal must take place before any form of date will materialize.

Where to go when dating in Europe

Across many European countries, rather than going on specific dates as is common in North American countries, getting to know someone romantically is far more casual: “walks in the afternoon or evening, which may be followed by an informal drink at a café (cheers!) or a bite to eat at lunchtime.” “Meeting up in a group with friends” is not uncommon, say some European expats.

In the Netherlands, you might take a walk or go on a bike ride. Couples in Germany don’t start with formal dating either and it’s only after a series of informal meetings – walks, dinner, cinema, theater – that they might start being seen as a couple. It’s also common for couples to keep the fact that they’re an item to themselves.

Dating in Europe: the date itself

Unless you’re going to be doing something sporty, dress up a little. Flip-flops, shorts, or scruffy clothes in general tend not to make a good impression in fashion-conscious European cities. Smart casual wear is probably best.

Smartly-dressed senior couple on a coffee date.
Photo: kate_sept2004/Getty Images

In France, a man may be late, but don’t take it personally; French men are notoriously bad timekeepers. In Germany and Switzerland, however, punctuality is valuable; if one of you rolls up late, your date will be off to a bad start.

French and Spanish men may seem a little over the top, showering a woman with compliments. If this happens, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean he’s (necessarily) a creep, as paying a compliment is a form of acknowledgement rather than flattery in those countries.

In places like the Netherlands and Germany, people can be very direct in the way they speak (rather than being over polite and saying things to be nice that they don’t mean to avoid hurting someone’s feelings – as is often the way in the United Kingdom, for example). What you say may be taken at face value. You shouldn’t always take to heart what’s said to you.

Whatever you do, don’t get drunk. In the UK, drinking a vast amount of alcohol can be central in beginning a sexual relationship with someone. But the rule almost everywhere else in Europe is: don’t.

Who pays for your date?

In most countries, the man offers to pay the bill. However, he wouldn’t automatically be offended if the woman suggested splitting the bill, or paying for the drinks or some other aspect of the date. After the first date, most people would probably expect to go Dutch (and not just in the Netherlands).

To kiss or not to kiss

Recently, a well-known romantic social networking site asked 13,000 members from around the world if they would kiss on a first date. Over half of the Americans, Australians, and Canadians said they would kiss on a first date. On the other hand, only 29 percent of Germans and 32 percent of French said they would pucker up. This doesn’t account for the fact, of course, it’s common in many countries for people to greet each other with a kiss on the cheek!

Lesbian couple drinking and having fun in a bar.
Photo: A_Columbo/Getty Images

In many English-speaking countries, the kiss just doesn’t have the same significance it does elsewhere. For example, in the UK, a woman might kiss one or more men when she’s out in a club or bar (or vice versa), but it wouldn’t necessarily mean anything or lead to a relationship of any kind. Conversely, in France, if you kiss someone on the lips (or have sex) it means you’re in a relationship. So kiss carefully!

Dating in Europe: the day after

In the United Kingdom or the United States, there’s much debate about how long to wait before calling after a first date. Too soon, and it can put some women or men off. Too long and they seem uninterested. In Europe, once a man gets your number, he will most likely call straight away rather than wait a few days.

If a man keeps calling you, don’t start thinking he’s a bit of a stalker. In France and Spain, it’s not unusual for a man to call, text, or e-mail a lot; it just means that he’s interested.

A French man or Spaniard might tell you he loves you after only a few weeks, but don’t panic. This usually just means ‘I really like you’. Women can say it back to a man with the same meaning. This doesn’t mean you should be moving in together or buying wedding rings any time soon.

When you’re going out with someone while dating in Europe, don’t rush to formalize it with the ‘where are we going with this relationship?’ conversation. Just go with the flow and enjoy what’s going on between you; don’t dive into planning your first Valentine’s Day together. More often, an invitation to meet the parents is the clue that a relationship is getting serious.