Falling in Love Story

Romantic Travel

Love Story

Cultural Differences

by Laurel Avery

Trying to have a relationship with someone from another country can be more than a little challenging. Communication between the sexes has never been smooth and easy, but add to that the fact that you actually speak entirely different languages, and you have the basis for a comedy of errors.

Over lunch the other day with my French boyfriend, my American girlfriend and her French husband, we were discussing how dating in every country is broken into 25 "steps," progressing from the first meeting, to sex and marriage (in whatever order those last two happen). In America, kissing someone comes at step 5. In France it doesn't appear until step 20. So if an American woman visits France and meets a nice guy, she doesn't consider that by giving him a little kiss she has really sped up the dating process to the place where he expects the next thing is to jump into bed together.

Therefore, American women are often mistaken for being "easy" and French men are thought to be rude to expect sex after something as harmless, by American standards, as a kiss. In French culture kissing a lover is something one does when one has become more intimate with them. They were not raised with the kissing games that we were used to in America. What adolescent in the U.S. has not played "spin the bottle" at one time or another?

Cultural differences also come into play in the simplest things, like going to a restaurant. My boyfriend and I had ordered our meal, and shortly thereafter the wine arrived. The waiter uncorked it and set the bottle on the table. It sat there for a minute or so, then I reached over and poured a glass for both of us. A horrified look came over his face, and he informed me that, in France, women never pour their own beverages. The men are expected to do this, as it is considered rude for a woman to pour her own. This created some amusement a couple of weeks later when, at a dinner with another couple, I had to resort to strongly suggestive glances between the wine bottle and my empty glass before our host realized he was amiss in his pouring duties (for which he apologized profusely).

Another thing that can sometimes create discord is the French tendency to be quite honest about what they think. If any American woman asked her American boyfriend, "Do you think I look fat?" and he answered "Yes," there would be one more man out there singing soprano. In France, a man does not hesitate to tell you that he thinks you should gain/lose weight, change your hair style, clothes, or cooking style. It takes some adjustment to get used to this, but in the end, it's nice to know that when he compliments you on something, he really means it and is not just trying to get you into bed (which they do in other ways!).

The little cultural differences can be worked out, as long as both people are willing to make an effort to communicate. The hardest part is to remember not to make any assumptions about how the other person is supposed to behave or react, which is really valid in any relationship, even between people from the same culture.

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