CULTURAL SHOCK #1 – RELATIONSHIPS

The Dating Process

Have you ever gone out to a bar, met someone, kissed someone and instinctually started calling her or him your boyfriend or girlfriend? I did! When I moved to America, I learned a lot about cultural differences in terms of intimate relationships.

Within the first three months of my American journey, I met Tatiana and Cecilia, two European girls who had grown up in the United States most of their lives. The first night we finally all went out together, I met a man and after we had engaged in conversation for a couple of hours, we ended up kissing. While on my way home with my friends, we started talking about the night and describing our different encounters. I told them about this person I met and finished by saying: “I guess I have a boyfriend now!” They both turned around and looked at me like this:

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Both of them were shocked because my dating theory did not resonate with the culture they had been raised in. While French people consider a kiss or two as the beginning of an exclusive relationship that one would immediately commit to, Americans go through a particular process called “dating” before getting involved in a serious love relationship.

In a blog post published on BBCAmerica.com, Ruth Margolis compares the American dating process to a business strategy meant to find the perfect mate. “It’s like a job or a house hunt, which means investigating more than one prospect at a time,” Margolis says. Since I would hate for my European fellows to embarrass themselves when socializing in America, here are the step-by-step guidelines of the dating process in comparison to the one we are familiar with:

FRANCE

Step 1 – 1-3 kisses / Step 2 – Meet my new  boyfriend / Step 3 – (If it works out) Let’s move in / Step 4 – Let’s get married / Step 5 – Let’s have kids

AMERICA 

Step 1 – Let’s go on a date (i.e. movies, bowling, concert, etc.) / Step 2 – Let’s go on another date (If it works out) and let’s kiss / Step 3 – After a few other dates let’s go to the bedroom / Step 4 – Meet my friends / Step 5 – Meet my family / Step 6 – THE TALK (very important step) Are we exclusive? / Step 7 – (If we reach this step) Meet my new boyfriend / Step 8 – Let’s move in / Step 9 – Let’s get engaged / Step 10 – (If it still works out) Let’s get married / Step 11 – Let’s have kids

This means that there is a gap of five steps between the French courtship and the American one in order to call one’s love a boyfriend or a girlfriend and expect loyalty to one another. Whether it is a man or a woman, two men or two women, we are still all talking about a relationship gravitating around a thing called love. However, by stepping on a different continent, the rules drastically change. This is one of many CULTURAL DIFFERENCES.

Cultural differences affect many day-to-day aspects of people’s lives in the world such as language, politics, food, work, but also LOVE. In his book, The Culture Code, Clotaire Rapaille explains that our cultural imprints are defined by our cultural adolescence, hence the reaction of my two European friends when I mentioned the word “boyfriend” so early. Although they are both respectively French and Italian, they grew up in California throughout their adolescence.

One of Rapaille’s studies about cultural differences focuses on love. After conducting numerous focus groups and participant-observations among both the American culture and the French culture, he discovered that these two populations have very distinct approaches to love. In fact, it illustrates very well these different concepts of dating when comparing France to America.

In France, love and pleasure are very much intertwined, while the notions of true love and Mr. Right is irrelevant. In comparison, Americans tend to make love rhyme with a quest for perfection. “A woman searches for Mr. Right because she believes the stories she reads in books or watches at the movies; she finds someone she believes she can change into her ideal man. (…) A man searches for Ms. Perfect for many of the same reasons; he finds a woman who excites him, he believes it will stay this way forever,” Rapaille says.

Nevertheless, all cultures constantly change and evolve throughout time. We are discussing dating process and love relationships in our current society, but will it be the same 10 to 50 years from now? Probably not. For example, online dating is considered as a major cultural shift primarily adopted in America due to significant technological advances, which first emerged on this same continent. This changed the game quite a bit too.

If there are a tremendous amount of online dating sites in America, there are maybe one or two popular ones in France. In reality, the online dating trend did not take off because it demystifies the original purpose of traditional courtship, which French people are very fond of. Ultimately, intimate relationships should not be based off the number of boxes checked in order to match one’s criteria representing the ideal mate.

Now that you understand better the American culture of dating, here is a valuable tip for you.

TIP: By being the educated outsider, YOU have the choice to either:

  1. Commit to the American “dating process” – “I want to live the experience
  2. Affirm your own way of courting somebody or being courted yourself – “If you want to date me, your step 6 is my step 2 so we’re already exclusive. Is that clear?”
  3. OR you can benefit from the cultural knowledge you acquired by living abroad (or reading my blog), and find the perfect balance between both approaches in order to accommodate to both cultures. “There is no right or wrong. If we like each other, let’s try it out and find a common ground.”

Have you already made your choice? Tell me your story! 

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