Exclusivity, Apps, “The Talk”: French Expats Navigate American Dating

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The “bases,” a need to confirm dates hours before they begin minute, a lack of spontaneity, navigating exclusiveness… Between culture shock and general incomprehension, the unwritten rules of American love and dating can confuse French-speaking singles who have just arrived in the United States. Because really, the French don’t date.

Out of love for an American, French woman Servane arrived in San Francisco 11 years ago. But after eight years in the relationship, the couple split up and the Servane found herself back on the dating market again. She feels that her encounters are much less spontaneous in the U.S. than in France: “Americans are more puritanical and there is very little flirting in cafés, on transportation or in restaurants.”

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Looking at her dates, she’s made some nice encounters as well as others that she would rather forget. “The guy who talks to you about software for 2 hours 30 minutes straight without realizing that you’re watching TV in the bar, the one whose phone is ringing every five minutes because his life is governed by alarms, the one who gives you too much information or the one who, after the email exchanges cease, is probably married.”

Exclusive or not, that is the question

For Marine, a young 21-year-old French woman in Sterling, Virginia, what troubled her the most was the question of exclusivity. “When I was an au pair, I tried Tinder and went on dates with some guys,” until she met her future husband Daniel, with whom she had to have the conversation. “He was seeing another girl, but after a month he made a formal request for exclusivity,” she recalls.

Tired of American-style dating like Servane, Valérie-Anne Demulier, a 32-year-old Belgian, created a dating concept for French people in New York, R&S for Robert and Simone, in May 2019. “I had the idea when I was still single, and I observed that a lot of French people around me didn’t like to date on apps, and that some of my girlfriends had sordid dating stories around the issue of exclusivity.”

The creator of the app arrived in New York in 2015 while in a relationship with a European. “We broke up soon after. I did some dating on apps; it worked, I met a lot of people, but the ‘non-exclusive’ aspect of relationships was weird for me, because at home [in France] we’re a couple or we’re not.”

A month after the launch of R&S, Valérie-Anne Demulier met Sean, a 37-year-old American from San Francisco. “I was surprised because I thought it would be easier with French-speaking people,” she explains. “After a week, we had a ‘talk,’ I told him I didn’t want to go out with other people.” His answer was positive, then two days later he asked Valérie-Anne: “If we’re exclusive, does that mean we’re officially boyfriend and girlfriend?” “I thought it was really cute,” she recalls.

The job interview

The “talk” and “exclusivity” system isn’t the only thing that annoys Marine when she starts to date someone. She feels like this system is some kind of “trial period.” For Alexandra, a French expat in San Francisco who is divorced from an American, the men she met were “pragmatic” and came to parties “like they were looking for a job.” “They ask you questions and the answers have to tick the right boxes: marriage, a one-night stand, a ‘connection.’ In fact, they define the product and then it’s nothing more and nothing less than project management,” she analyses.

It’s a perspective shared by Catherine, 35, a French teacher at community colleges in Los Angeles. “During a date, you have to act like you would in a professional interview, present your CV and your qualities.” She cites the example of a man she went on a date with that she likes to call “the polyglot” who, after jabbering a few words in French, announced, “I’m not going to lie to you, I speak five languages.” During this kind of “recruitment of the perfect woman,” she is always asked about her passions, and a more disconcerting question sometimes comes up: “why are you single?” Aghast, she prefers to use the French deuxième dégre — offbeat humor — to answer it, at the risk of confusing the American male. This interrogation, she believes, is intended to check if she can fulfil the role of “ideal woman for the family photo.”

Alexandra also denounces the protocol behind American-style dating, all “those unspoken codes that regulate every date.” “You always have to reconfirm the appointment a few hours beforehand, otherwise they don’t come,” says Catherine, who learned this rule after one of her app dates stood her up.

But Catherine was also surprised by the honesty of some of her dates: “A man told me he was looking for a sophisticated woman, and that as a French woman I could be that. It was like he was trying to affirm his social status.” On the other hand, she has already had the opposite in front of her: a suitor confessed to her, during a conversation, that he was a big consumer of porn and had an addiction to cocaine. “A good pressure-free evening,” Catherine laughs.

While many end up finding a soul mate, and if not then at least a satisfying relationship, for others the culture shock is insurmountable. Alexandra decided “not to date any more Americans …. There is an irreconcilable incompatibility, a fundamentally different philosophy of life.” What she is looking for is “more natural, this Latin-style relationship of going on adventures, of flirting, of letting oneself live.” And to her great pleasure, she has just met a great German man.   

By Charlotte Autry (San Francisco), Sandra Cazenave (Los Angeles), Nastasia Peteuil (Washington DC), and Maxime Aubin (New York)

Featured image: Stock Photos from oneinchpunch / Shutterstock