Before I dive into the subject, I partnered up with my friend Rosie, who hosts an amazing Youtube channel, Not Even French! We discussed this same topic in her video below. Don’t hesitate to check it out along with this article! Feel free to comment and let us know what you think as well as checking out some of her other videos about a Kiwi living in Paris!
It’s been 8 years since I first hopped off a plane and started my semi-permanent French adventure abroad. Since my first year in France, I’ve managed to catch myself a pretty bangin’ French husband, but prior to that, I had 2 serious French boyfriends and met countless randos along the way. Like everywhere, the dating scene in Paris can be rough, with a capital R. But add in some cultural misunderstandings, and you’re in for a brutal rollercoaster of emotions. If only I had known a few very important things, it would have saved me some tears, sanity, and a couple thousand dollars in shots.
“Celebrate, Celebrate, Dance to the Music”
The French do not celebrate holidays “all out” like Americans do. Don’t plan on wearing a French Flag dress to a Bastille Day party (their Independence Day) or risk broken bones by climbing on your roof to spread the joy of Christmas with lights. The French are generally way more toned down than that. If you wanna rebel and paint a flag on your face for Bastille Day, be ready for that judgy, “you’re clearly not french” stare we all know to well.
This consequently means that smaller holidays we are used to celebrating in the US; Valentine’s Day, Saint Patrick’s day, the fricken 100th day of school, will all virtually be ignored. So when you wake up on Valentine’s Day and realize your boyfriend has planned nada for this day, even though you made heart shaped pancakes, cut out naked baby angels with bows and arrows for decorations and wrote a heartfelt note about how much you adore him.. this is no cause for alarm. Put down the glass of wine. It’s not a sign of how much he cares about you, it’s not his unsubtle way of telling you to take a hike, it’s just simply a holiday that doesn’t really need to be celebrated. With that being said, I still draw 4 leaf clovers on my face and hit the best Irish Pubs to dance and celebrate on Saint Paddy’s day. You don’t need to tone down yourself, but tone down those expectations that he’s going to celebrate the same way you do.
“Less is more, Back it up, slow it down, let it breathe”
I have a lot of fond memories in college of spending hours getting ready before a date or night out. From the buckets of hair spray, to push up bras and six inch stilettos, I was ready to wow. And wow I did when I arrived in France. But not exactly in the way I was trying to. Sashaying down the street in stilettos, a mini skirt and a full on makeup face got me the type of attention a call girl is looking for. Not exactly what I had in mind on a fun night out with the girls, nor was it the impression I wanted to give off on a first date.
French women tend to dress more casual, laid back and natural. They can absolutely dress sexy, but not in the flashy way that we do in the states. If you want to fit in, save the boobs for the bedroom and trade in the stilettos for a pair of chunky boots. I don’t always want to fit in, so I use the legs out or chest out rule, but not both at once. I still feel like myself, but i’m not getting the famous, “is that what you’re wearing to dinner…?” remark. Because that remark is usually followed by a 30 minute argument while I accuse Robin of smashing my self-esteem and he accuses me of being overly sensitive. And then of course we miss our dinner reservation and end up ordering in and watching netflix. The joys of bi-cultural couples.
“Fashion, turn to the left, Fashion, turn to the right”
French men tend to have more of an interest in fashion then the general American guy. Whether they are a fan of the cashmere sweater and jean combo or baggy pants and ribbed turtlenecks, they own their style and their closet is full of different variations of the same outfit. If you like the way they dress, you hit the jackpot, because if you don’t, you’ll need to spend years slowly and strategically changing out their closet. But don’t despair, if you meet a guy on the first date and everything is perfect except the man purse hes clutching, this can be fixed. Just be patient ladies.
This also means that they have a pretty strong opinion of the way you dress as well. This can be both positive and negative. If they love what you are wearing, you’ll be showered with compliments in that accent that makes you ready to toss all your clothes off anyways. If they don’t love what you put on, be ready for the “is that what you are wearing to dinner?” remark.” Fashion is a culture in France and it’s openly praised and criticized by all. So try not to react as childishly as I do. Hear his feedback and then decide if you want to listen to or it not. Dressing for yourself is often wayyy more fun than dressing for him.
“If I miscommunicated I apologize, I don’t ask for much, just be honest”
Coming from the Midwest where we’re taught “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” constructive feedback was/is a HUGE adjustment for me. The French have naturally a more direct, honest way of interacting and especially in Paris, you won’t get anywhere being super friendly. This was really hard when I started dating in France because I just couldn’t understand what I felt like were often backhanded compliments. “Oh cherie, thanks for cleaning the whole apartment. Wait, I see some finger prints on the glass there, you always have trouble with the windows.” Umm wtf? I just spent hours cleaning by myself and you want to make a comment about the fact that the windows are done perfectly? I still feel like these types of comments aren’t always necessary and it’s definitely still a topic of discussion at our house. But I’ve also learned to look at these from a cultural point of view. Robin was raised to say what he thinks, where I was raised to say what I think if it’s kind. #workinprogress for us both.
“Forget that boy, i’m over it”
And finally those naturally gorgeous, laid back, intelligent ex French girlfriends that are always lingering around in your man’s past. If I had known that staying friends with your ex was a trend in France, I might have taken some Xanax before going to multiple soirees. Trend is maybe to casual of a word, it’s just the norm. My first serious boyfriend would let his ex girlfriend stay in his apartment when she visited Paris…it was a 34 m2 studio. He would stay there too. The second one dated his cousin’s best friend, so naturally she was at every family gathering, which in France means every Sunday lunch. And in Robin’s case, he’s from Paris so his friend group from high school/college live here and we do a lot of social things with them. Do you remember what dating was like between friends then? No one was off limits, and switching up boyfriends at the drop of the hat was completely acceptable. Today I can’t even keep track of who dated who back then, so I just drink more wine and pretend that i’m not analyzing what percentage of the room has seen my husband totally naked.
One of the up sides to this is that it’s completely normal for me to stay friends with my exes as well. It’s such an accepted thing in France that relationships can go from romantic to platonic, that if you do wish to grab a coffee and catch up with an ex, no harm no foul. But keep this in mind if you start dating a French guy regularly. Obviously texting an ex every day is a complete red flag. But if you find out one of his ex’s is part of the 15 people driving to the countryside for the weekend, and you are already in the car…. don’t panic. This is completely normal.