Although it’s easy to find similarities between French and American dating cultures, they’re several important differences to note if you’re venturing into the French dating scene or are already in knee-deep. The number one thing to keep in mind is that the French don’t “date.”
If you kiss a Frenchie after a date or two, it wouldn’t be unusual for him/her/them to assume exclusivity. For Maxime, a 27-year-old Parisien in marketing, “the first kiss activates the relationship trial period. Each subsequent date either inspires further confidence in the relationship so the duo remains en couple or the opposite and the couple se rompre.” In other words, you’re together until proven apart. For Americans who are accustomed to the dating app culture of grabbing drinks with a few different romantic options within a short time frame, the significance of a first kiss with a French person can come as a shock.
Even though Tinder, Bumble, and the like have hit France, dating multiple people at once is less culturally acceptable in France than in the States. According to Jacqueline, a 25-year-old Parisienne in finance, the French may view a woman who grabs a drink with a few different men in the same week as a pute. Likewise, the French label a man who goes on dates with multiple women back-to-back as a queutard, a vulgar that evokes a sleazy guy that has been carelessly sleeping around. Whereas Americans test the waters before becoming “official,” the French tend to dive right in.
In contrast to Americans, the French rarely mark the start of a relationship with the “what are we?” talk. “The question places too much pressure on someone to make a decision,” explains Maxime. Rather, les français constantly reaffirm their choice to be together based on each time they see each other. “Each rencontre reflects the renewal of the relationship contract,” he says in reference to the unspoken understanding that two people are pursuing a relationship together.
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If they are in a relationship, many French don’t feel the need for verbal affirmation to be sure. “We rarely have such blunt conversation since individuals in a relationship convey their feelings for their partners via metaphors and non-verbal signs,” notes Olivia, a 22-year-old française in business school. The “what are we?” convo only happens, she explains, “when someone in the relationship has un doute based on the other’s behavior.”
Without the clear “we’re official” talk, American expats in the French dating scene must turn to other signals to figure out if they’re en couple or someone’s plan cul or PQR (both mean hook-up buddy). Jacqueline remarks that a sure-fire sign of being in a relationship with someone is kissing the person when you greet. “I’d never kiss someone on the lips to say hello who wasn’t my copain,” she says. Other tell-tale gestures include the forehead kiss, le câlin, and embracing. Clémence, a 22-year-old Parisienne explains that such moves, “show affection and that you’re someone’s mec or meuf instead of PQR.”
As in the States, you can pick up on your relationship status based on how your partner addresses you. Grace, a 23-year-old American au pair who has lived in Paris for a year, discovered that the guy she’d been dating assumed they were en couple when he introduced her as his copine to his friends. Similarly, Clémence notes, “It became clear I was maquée when my boyfriend and I called each other by pet names such as ma puce, mon coeur, or mon amour.” The verbal indications don’t stop there. “Frequent discussions between two people about topics both banal and profound indicates that they’re ensemble,” adds Olivia.
The quantity and quality of time you spend together can also help clear the fog. “If you’re going on organized dates (such as a play, a restaurant, a weekend trip), you’re likely ensemble. It’s even clearer If the dates occur during the day,” says Clémence. “Another indice is discussing future plans together — even hypothetical ones — such as voyages à venir, ideal places of residence, wedding locations, etc.”
By refraining from labeling a romantic relationship as “official” or not, the French avoid taking the permanence of their relationships for granted. Instead, they continuously demonstrate their desire to be with their partners through more subtle verbal and physical cues.
“We must constantly tend to our little flame,” smiles Olivia.