The dating game is hard enough, even when you know the ‘rules’. So how do you date when living abroad and you don’t know how the game is played? Here’s a guide to expat dating in Europe.
The dating game can be hard enough in your home country, and 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 your first Euro date.
To gather real accounts of the European dating scene, last year we asked around 500 (mostly, but not exclusively, heterosexual) expats living in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland a series of up-close and 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.
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, and then it ‘just happens’ and they decide to go out together alone. Think friends-turned-lovers idea.
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 in Europe
In France, Germany and Belgium, it’s common for the man to ask a woman out, but 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. If you’re interested in someone, maintain eye contact – 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. If you really aren’t interested, then be very clear and tell him politely but firmly (the hints that might work back home, won’t work here).
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 materialise.
Where to go
In most European countries, rather than going on specific ‘dates’ as you might in the US, getting to know someone romantically is far more casual: “Walks in the afternoon/evening which may be followed by an informal drink at a café or a bite to eat at lunchtime”, or “meeting up in a group with friends” is not uncommon, says some European expats.
In the Netherlands you might take a walk or go on a bike ride. In Germany, couples don’t start with formal dating either and it’s only after a series of informal meetings – walks, dinner, cinema, theatre – 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.
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 Europe. Smart casual wear is probably best.
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 highly valued so if one of you rolls up late, your date will be off to a bad start.
French and Spanish men may seem a little OTT, 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 UK). So what you say may be taken at face value – and 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 may offer to pay the bill but 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’, such as cinema or theatre tickets. After the first date, most people would probably expect to go Dutch (and not just in the Netherlands!).
To kiss or not to kiss.
Last year, a well-known romantic social networking site asked 13,000 members from around the world ‘Would you kiss on a first date?’ Over half of the Americans, Australians and Canadians said they would kiss on a first date, while only 29 percent of Germans and 32 percent of French said they would pucker up. In the US and other 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. Whereas in France, if you kiss someone on the lips (or have sex) it means you’re ‘in a relationship’. So kiss carefully!
The day after
In the UK or US, 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 it can seem like they’re not really interested. 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/email a lot – it just means he’s interested.
A French man or Spaniard might tell you he loves you after only a few weeks but don’t panic: It usually just means ‘I really like you’. Women can say it back to a man with the same meaning – it doesn’t mean you should be moving in together or planning a wedding any time soon.
When you’re going out with someone, don’t rush to formalise it with the ‘where are we going with this relationship?’ conversation. Just go with the flow and enjoy what’s going on between you. More often, the clue that a relationship is getting serious is if you’re invited back home to meet the parents.
For more on Euro dating, read ‘Expat dating: Love in a cold – or warm – climate’