Is the language of love truly universal? Or do some things get lost in translation? While dating apps have taken hold across the world — or wherever there’s a strong enough WIFI signal — the method of pursuit still varies geographically. So, do you flirt like a Parisian or play hard-to-get like a New Yorker? Here’s what it’s like to date in six different countries.
French is considered the language of love, so it’s only fitting to assume that romance would bloom under such auspicious circumstances. The idea that passion and excitement await all travelers to the City of Light has long had a hold on the popular imagination — Emily in Paris is only the latest interpretation of this cultural narrative, romantic wish fulfillment for the (outrageously attired) American ingenue. And I’ve certainly been whisked off my feet on whirlwind trips to Paris, so the stereotype is certainly based on some truth. You’re speaking a Romance Language, after all.
And, while the art of courtship is far from dead in France, the rules of commitment are, shall we say, more laissez-faire. “The French say, ‘I love you’ with the same casualness of saying, ‘I love chocolate ice cream.’ Don’t assume it means they only want chocolate ice cream for the rest of their lives,” reports a friend dating (and swiping) in Paris. That being said, the French avoid the limbo period of undefined relationships and years-long situationships, the curse of dating stateside: “If you kiss someone, you’re exclusive — no conversation necessary. Careful who you kiss at your next fête — He may just become your boyfriend. Choose wisely.”
Allora. We’re heading south to another nation famous for tempestuous passion and steamy love affairs: Italy, of course. And, as it turns out, the bravado and confidence of Italian men, as it has been portrayed in countless movies and television, is true — certainly in Rome and further south. (Maybe there is something to be said about speakers of the Romance Languages being more romantic). But, when you head further north to Milan, courtship becomes more reserved — certainly less overt. The flirtatious shouts of “Piccolina!” I received from strangers on the street certainly lessened the closer I traveled towards the Swiss border.
Similar to the French, the Italians are unafraid to put a label on a connection — with a similar caveat. “Italians will DTR [define the relationship] while having another R,” reported a friend living in Milan. But perhaps such logistical considerations pale in comparison to the giddy intensity of a new love affair. Said friend reported a recent evening in Rome when his date took him on a moonlight walk amongst the ruins and old palazzos, leaning in for a kiss and ordering ice cream on the piazza Navona before disappearing into the night. That’s amore.
Though the idea of the bashful British man falling head-over-heels for the headstrong American woman is a well-trodden premise in the pantheon of romantic comedies — Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, really any Hugh Grant performance from the 1990s — it’s rarer for Brits to date outside their social circle. While in New York, it’s perfectly routine to go out for drinks with an absolute stranger multiple times a week (or more, depending on your dating app activity), Londoners tend to date people they already know. And, in my own personal experience, when I acquired a British boyfriend, it was through mutual friends at the London School of Economics. What felt utterly serendipitous was perhaps less so — I was, after all, pre-vetted. And in Britain, exclusivity once dating is often assumed.
Additionally, drinking culture is alive and well in the UK, and while many dates worldwide are held over cocktails or a bottle of wine, in London it’s especially rare to return home from an evening date without having imbibed a few pints. Being a teetotaler or ‘California sober’ is less socially acceptable for prospective partners across the pond — it’s simply not as common. Furthermore, daytime dates are nearly unheard of — which coincides with the aforementioned pints. Finally, online dating is also popular across the pond, with one marked improvement: Brits are more likely to schedule in-person plans early in the conversation, saving dates from the endless back-and-forth of idle chatter (which is certainly cause for celebration in any language).
The dating scene in Singapore is a curious blend of traditional roles and old-school expectations mixed with the same internet-reliant freneticism of courtship in many Western countries. Although public affection isn’t illegal,, hugging without consent is a soft crime in Singapore. Needless to say, you won’t find much evidence of PDA from couples on the street. Additionally, the pressure to marry and be economically successful is immense, and relationships and finances are often viewed as inextricably entwined, adding even more pressure to the situation. As a result, dating is less casual and more future-oriented — a departure from the live-in-the-moment ethos of Italians or the numbers-game approach favored in the US.
Singapore itself is a melting pot of cultures, and, as a former British colony, there are a fair amount of UK expats living and working in the city (often in banking). For these Brits abroad, a trip to Bali is the equivalent of a New Yorker heading out to the Hamptons, but even more accessible — the island is only an hour’s flight away. And, similar to the mating habits of East Coast Americans heading out east for the weekend, the Balinese resort town of Kuta is viewed as the epicenter of single life, filled with Singaporeans ready and eager to mingle. So, if you’re looking for love and not finding it, hop on a flight and head to Legian Street, where bars are crawling with fellow singles. May the odds be ever in your favor.
From one country where non consensual hugging is illegal to another where public displays of affection are an embodiment of its expansive cultural ethos, we’re headed south of the border to Mexico. It’s commonplace to find romantic partners kissing in the street, holding hands in public, and visibly announcing their relationship status (which is ‘‘taken,’ in case that was unclear). The public, performative aspect of courtship is celebrated, a ritualized announcement of love and intent. And when it comes to PDA, more is more — Mexico is a tactile, high-contact culture, to say the very least.
Additionally, the protocol of heterosexual dating in Mexico tends to fall along the lines of more traditional gender roles — men often initiate the first interaction, invite women on the first date, pay for their dinner companion, and follow up for future liaisons. The patriarchal element of Mexican culture means that behaving like a gentleman is of the highest importance. In some ways, the dating scene in Mexico can feel like a throwback to a more conservative era in American culture — think perhaps the 1950s, with an old-fashioned emphasis on family values. But, on the upside, chivalry is not dead — you maybe just need to brush up on your Spanish and fly south to experience it for yourself. ¡Vamos!”
While dating in America varies widely by region — singles in rural areas are more likely to settle down right after college, while those in cities tend to wait decades longer — the overall culture around courtship and commitment is far more casual. Though dating apps didn’t magically create the existence of more single people in your area, they did find a way to teleport each one (or at least their online avatars) onto your phone. As such, dating is more gamified, with many believing that if they keep on swiping, the right person will eventually appear. (That is, of course, if they manage to meet in person). Meeting online is now the most common way to find a partner. But, at the end of the day, it’s a numbers game, and — in my humble opinion — the house always wins.
When you do go on a date, it’s no longer the provenance of dinner for two or evening cocktails. Coffee dates and lunch dates are seen as less of an investment (fiscally and temporally) than a nighttime rendesvous, and hiking dates (especially in Denver and LA) have grown ever more popular. Additionally, when you are repeatedly seeing someone, it’s not always a clear-cut progression from dating to marriage — now there’s the ‘talking phase’ and ‘being exclusive without any labels’ and myriad other diluted pathways en route to love. Perhaps this commitment-phobic attitude is unsurprising in a country that places such a premium on personal freedoms and everyone’s right to pursue their own desires: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is America’s founding ethos, after all. (That, and the right to not pay taxes).
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