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Cultural Differences

Love Story


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.

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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