Learn how to navigate the dating pool in your new home country with our helpful guide to expat dating and the truth behind those cultural stereotypes.
The player, the romantic, the cling-on: there are countless types of people we inevitably come across during our quest for love. But throw a bunch of different cultural stereotypes and dating etiquette into the mix and suddenly finding the one takes on a whole new level.
For the 34% of expats who are single and ready to mingle, navigating the dating scene in a foreign land can present its own unique lessons in love; whether you’re dating online or meeting people by flirting with them the old-fashioned way, it’s difficult to know how in advance much of the stereotypes you know are true. Are French guys really only after one thing? Will a Russian literally drink you under the table? Would a Spanish guy seriously expect you to live with his parents? We’ve all heard the cultural stereotypes, and whether or not these ring true, getting to know someone from a different cultural background can be a big learning curve, and – if you’re up for it – a lot of fun.
To help you navigate the dating pool in your new country, we’ve put together this helpful guide to expat dating; it aims to bust some of the myths surrounding cultural stereotypes and set the record straight – once and for all. But before you read on, we urge you to take this article with a pinch of salt; after all, it would be unfair to make sweeping generalizations about an entire nation. Instead, these tips are only intended as general cultural guidelines for expats who have just landed (or expats looking to start a proper relationship with a local): observations and individuals vary widely.
Don’t expect him to waffle on
Belgium is famous for its drool-inducing fries, waffles, chocolate, and beer (hell, that’s reason enough to live there). But there is far more to this charming little country than its pub grub. For starters, people here speak three languages – Dutch, French, and German. If you speak one of these languages, then you’re already over the first hurdle: the language barrier.
Despite this country’s gift for languages, however, you shouldn’t expect your love interest to be a chatterbox from the get-go. On the contrary, Belgians are often considered to be somewhat reserved and closed when first meeting people, which can make them appear distant, unemotional, or disinterested in the early stages of dating. As a result, relationships can take a long time to develop – but if you have the patience, it’s well worth the wait.
Many of Belgium’s cultural stereotypes involve good manners. Not only are Belgians generally known to be dependable, calm-natured, well-mannered, and hard-working, they will also turn up on time, because being late is considered a major sign of disrespect. They won’t mess around with dating standards either – if they are interested, you will know about it. While they might not shower you with roses or twirl you around in the moonlight, they will arrive on the dot, and whisk you away to a dinner party, if you make a good impression. Just make sure you scrub up for the occasion, as scruffiness does not bode well with this dashing date. And if you are female, don’t forget to bring your wallet, as women in Belgium are typically independent and happy to pay their way.
Rendez-vous avec two? Think again!
French men are notorious (let’s say) for their romantic skills and powers of seduction, but don’t believe everything you hear. Sure, there will always be the players (locally known as beaux-parleurs; literally “beautiful talkers”) who reel off all kinds of crap to lure you away to the boudoir, but you get this in every country, and generally speaking, French men (the good ones, at least) like to keep a cool distance when they begin dating. They value their independence, so it can take time to get to know them.
Contrary to popular belief, French men don’t actually date, but rather rendez-vous, which literally translates to ‘meeting you’. But if you do get invited out, don’t expect an intimate dinner for two; in this context, ‘you’ actually means you – as in plural – so expect company. If you find yourself sat at a dinner table of singles on the weekend, and spot a piece of eye candy you’d like to get to know, it’s a good opportunity to make your move. And he won’t be shy about it either, because French women are famous for their confidence, and for being fiercely independent, which is a good thing if you like your own space.
Of course, you can expect a certain level of intelligence and culture when dating the French, so the idea of sipping a café au lait by the Seine while discussing politics and art with your amour isn’t totally out of the question. Speaking of which, try to read a newspaper from time to time to keep up with current affairs, as this topic is important to many locals and will likely pop up in conversation at some point.
Fashionably late is not an acceptable excuse – we warned you.
While Germans certainly value orderliness, they are more flirtatious and cheeky than you might expect (it’s always the quiet ones, right?) Interestingly, there is a tendency among German men to casually date women who are much younger than them, and marry later in their 30s. Again, it’s unfair to generalize, but as long as they want to play Peter Pan, and not a Lost Boy, it might not be an issue if you aren’t looking to commit just yet, either.
Because gender equality is strong in Germany, things like splitting the bill are not a big deal. A woman is just as likely to approach a man if he catches her attention. Her dating style is similar to his too – if she sees something she likes, she will go for it, if not – auf wiedersehen!
One thing she certainly does not like is machismo, but then again, who does? German men aren’t exactly famous for their flattering charm, so a local woman might not know how to take a compliment. It’s worth a try, but she might not believe you. As long as you turn up on time, though, you’re off to a good start, because if there is one deal-breaker a German won’t make an exception for, it’s tardiness.
Easily offended? Then think twice before you date a Dutchie.
This low-lying country does many things well, but subtlety is certainly not one of them. As far as cultural stereotypes go, this one is pretty accurate, as people in The Netherlands have a tendency to say what’s on their mind, regardless of how it might sound on the receiving end. Depending on your outlook, this can either be seen as painfully direct or refreshingly honest when dating a local, but hey, at least you know where you stand, right?
The Dutch love efficiency; when it comes to dating, they have no time for games or playing hard to get, instead favoring getting to the point and going for what they want. This leaves little space for flirting, but you’ll save time and heartache; you won’t second-guess how he or she feels about you, because they’ll just tell you – even if it’s a flat-out rejection. This is good news if you are searching for a meaningful relationship.
This small country prides itself on equality, freedom, and open-mindedness. Things like splitting the bill (or going Dutch, which Dutch people actually do) on a date is normal. Because men and women are seen as equals, showering your partner with compliments doesn’t come naturally. Don’t expect him to open doors for you or carry your bags, either; he respects you too much. This outlook isn’t for everyone; some say this is an unfortunate downside of equality when dating a Dutch man. Others, however, revel in the freedom that comes with not having to dress up and plaster on make-up, which is unlikely to impress. You’ll save a lot of money on cosmetics – and avoid getting panda eyes during one of Holland’s notorious downpours.
If you think all British men are Martini-swigging womanizers like James Bond, then think again.
While it might be unfair to stereotype a whole nation, Brits are generally renowned for being unfailingly polite and reserved. When dating in the UK, this might be interpreted as giving the cold shoulder, but it’s more the case that public displays of affection aren’t as common here as in other European countries.
Unlike some cultures, where women might be the ones to make the first move, the UK remains fairly traditional. The task of asking someone out usually falls to the man. It’s likely you’ll go for a drink on your first date and have dinner the second time. The man will usually pay the bill, too. He’ll leave a generous tip, also because of British chivalry. Generally speaking, tradition runs through all aspects of life. The idea of finding a partner, buying a home, and having children is one that many young people aspire to. That said, the millennial generation is less rooted to these concepts.
As in every country, tastes vary, and Brits might be just as enthusiastic about enjoying a night at the theatre or pub as they are about binge-watching the latest Netflix series or hitting a comedy club. After all, they are known for their dry and satirical sense of humor, which can take some getting used to. Given the nation’s concern over offending anyone, however, you will rarely be the butt of the joke.
Don’t drink her under the table, just sweep her off her feet.
Contrary to what cultural stereotypes might lead us to believe, not every Russian spends their time swilling vodka and eating caviar. On the contrary, many men – and especially women – consider drinking the spirit as unladylike. They often prefer to order champagne or wine when out socializing.
Dating in Russia follows tradition, with men adopting a highly chivalrous manner to sweep women off their feet. This means that it’s quite common for Russian men to bring flowers along to a date. They’ll always bring an odd number, though; pairs of flowers are synonymous with funerals.
Russian men are highly courteous; they’ll hold doors, help with coats, and pay the bill at the end of the evening. If you prefer to keep your distance in relationships, then dating in Russia might not be for you. It’s also worth noting that – rightly or wrongly – Russian men are not impressed by outwardly ‘unfeminine’ behavior on a date; swearing profusely and smoking is not likely to bode well.
Russians tend to stick together. As a result, fewer than one in five marriages in Moscow are between people from different countries. This can be a challenge for expats who already face a language barrier; English is not common outside the big cities. Gender roles might also be an obstacle; Russian women are expected to be loyal and domestic, keeping a tidy home and focusing on family life rather than their own careers. In this respect, Russia is less advanced than its neighboring countries when it comes to attitudes towards the sexes. Men, on the other hand, enjoy socializing and heavy drinking as a stress reliever. This often becomes a major health concern and one of the main reasons for divorce.
Just like a good cheese fondue, the Swiss can take a while to warm up.
This may be true when it comes to dating in this mountainous country. More often than not, though, it’s well worth the wait. There is no rule book for dating in Switzerland, such as when to call or get more serious, so you might find yourself playing the long game.
The Swiss are taciturn and relatively conservative. Women here generally expect men to make the first move, though this isn’t always the case. It can take a while for a Swiss man to pluck up the courage. When he finally does set the date, he’s likely to turn up for it fifteen minutes early; being proper and courteous ranks above everything else. Some report that Swiss men take it slow to get intimate. It’s not necessarily a sign of disinterest; rather, they’re taking their time to get to know someone properly before opening up completely. This means that when a Swiss man settles down, it’s usually serious.
Personal space plays a big part in Swiss relationships. You certainly won’t be living in each others’ pockets, which is good news if you cherish your independence. Generally speaking, Swiss women are fairly laid-back too; they tend to be comfortable starting small and seeing where things go. Like in the Netherlands, appearances play less of an important role. It’s not uncommon for Swiss women to turn up to a date wearing jeans and no make-up. As Swiss women are becoming more career driven, sharing costs on a date is common and seen as a sign of respect and equality, rather than a break in chivalry.
Spaniards are loud, lazy, and love a long siesta, right? Well, not entirely.
There are countless cultural stereotypes for this famously flamboyant country, but not all of them ring true. For example, despite Spaniards having an image as work-shy shirkers, they actually work some of the longest hours in Europe – even more than the Germans.
That said, they do seem to run on a completely different timetable to practically every other country on earth; they often take two to three hours for lunch and tuck into dinner well after 21:00. This applies to dating too, as they have been accused of being late on more than one occasion – or flaking out altogether. Hispanic time – as it is often dubbed – can make dating a local a frustrating experience, especially if you’re rather punctual.
If you are super laid-back and patient, this might not be an issue; that is until he invites you back to his parent’s house, because a whopping 80% of Spaniards (mainly men) under the age of 30 still live at home. While women tend to fly the nest earlier, men are known to live at home far longer, enjoying the home comforts on offer. The Spanish often wait a lot longer before marriage; don’t hold your breath if you’re looking to settle down with your guapo anytime soon. Prepare to spend a lot of time with their family, too; this is a central part of Spanish life for many.
Whatever you do, do not call them Spanish!
When cruising the dating pool in Portugal, it’s important to understand how much the country’s roots matter to the locals, so try not to brand them in with the Spanish or Brazilians as if they are one and the same. While Brazilian culture has a strong influence here, the Portuguese are far more reserved than their Lusophone counterparts.
Despite boasting a sunny, laid-back Mediterranean culture, the Portuguese pride themselves on their time-keeping; this applies to dating, too. The Portuguese frown upon lateness; it won’t start your date off well. When it comes to settling the bill, men will likely insist on paying; this is largely due to their traditional views on gender roles.
These attitudes extend to family, which is an integral part of life for both men and women. Local people will enjoy discussing their relatives and telling you all about their upbringing; this means that you might have to work hard to impress your future mother-in-law. But if all goes well, they’ll treat you with great loyalty once you’re in the family.
We can’t wait for the wedding!
This affluent country is an attractive location when looking for love. It can be a challenge, though; many people you meet on a daily basis through work don’t actually live there. In fact, more than 170,000 people commute into Luxembourg for work from Belgium, Germany, and France. This transient population can make dating in Luxembourg – or even scheduling a date – a bit of a mission.
Dating culture, like business culture, follows a patient process here. Greetings are fairly aloof, punctuality is highly valued, and chivalry is important, as are table manners – so no slurping at dinnertime. Bluntness is rude here, so politeness at all times is best. Locals often frown upon walking around with your hands in your pockets.
Luxembourgers are reticent and private; they may not be as forthcoming with their emotions as people from other countries. Developing relationships can therefore be a slow process. But if all goes well and you get engaged, plenty of fun will be had at the wedding. This includes playing tricks on the bride and groom, and – if you’re a younger sibling getting married before your older brother or sister – you’ll usually be given a goat at the wedding as a joke! We’re not even kid-ding.
Brush up on your sporting knowledge and get ready for the braai
Dating in South Africa is a colorful experience, given the diversity of the country and all of its cultural customs. It’s understandable that the experience can vary significantly between different groups, depending on their backgrounds.
South Africa is patriarchal, which means cultural stereotypes result in slightly regressive gender roles. Broadly speaking, women in South Africa are sweet and romantic, but they’re certainly no pushovers; they can be feisty if you get on their bad side. On the contrary, men are quite sweet and traditional; he’ll most likely request permission from your father before he proposes to you.
While dates are usually simple and relaxed, women still like their men brave and chivalrous. Ask them out properly rather than just suggesting to hang out. They are known for their elegance; picking a nice restaurant, scrubbing up for the big date, and holding the door open will make a good impression.
Women in South Africa are also fiercely loyal to their partners, their friends, and their rugby team. Be sure to take an interest in all of the above. Sport is a major part of South African culture; as a result, your ideal man will be fit, healthy, and active, with a love of the outdoors. One activity you are bound to come across is braai, a meat-heavy barbecue enjoyed by all. Because South Africa boasts some outstanding vineyards, you won’t have trouble finding a delicious bottle to pair with your food. Just make sure you slap on the suncream; otherwise, the Boerewors (the famous spiral-shaped sausage) won’t be the only thing roasting in the unforgiving heat.