Americans preparing for a date. Painting by Don Troiani.

American dating. Painting by Don Troiani.

When the French venture into the American dating scene, they find it warlike, unromantic, a bit slutty, and — above all — highly regimented. “Their highly codified dating game doesn’t leave much space for magic,” complains Anna Rios-Bordes on the popular French news site Rue89. “The American game of seduction is like military strategy, and it makes mincemeat of any innocent, lighthearted European daring to set foot in the land of pragmatic romance.”

Dating, French language sources say, is every bit as bad as American TV series have led the French public to believe.1La culture du dating à l’américaine“, Meetic, a French dating site2Les règles du Dating“, Châtelaine, a French-Canadian women’s magazine “The ‘date’ is like a codified job interview. […] There is a route to follow, with signposts,” explains Madame Figaro.

The word déïte — as the French phonetically spell it — doesn’t have an exact translation. Se frequenter ? Se tester ? — To see each other? To test each other out? — are attempts from Marie-Lyse Paquin writing for Châtelaine.

I’ve herein compiled the “highly codified”, “military-style”3Les règles du Dating“, Châtelaine, a French-Canadian women’s magazine4Le « date » à l’américaine, un jeu de l’amour, pas du hasard“, Rue89, a popular French news site rules for the American déïte, as explained by those brave French who have attempted to cross the romantic divide. I’ve only included observations that I’ve found frequently repeated in French-language news articles and blogs (though I’ve also heard variants of these repeated by people from various parts of the world who have spent time in America), and the standard TP disclaimers apply; as with all cultural observations, they’re not universal descriptions of behavior, and they’re obviously relative to the culture making the observations.

May the advice prove useful to those attempting to date à la américaine, and for Americans — who really ought to discover how other cultures see their romance manqué.

 1. The Obligatory First Date

“I would try to tell [American] guys, ‘I’m French; I don’t date,'” says a French expat in California, interviewed by Madame Figaro, “but it didn’t work. They needed everything to be explicit” — in terms of whether or not an outing was officially a date.

Americans are thus obliged to officially ask each other out, and the first date is often for a drink and to make small talk.5Les 20 expressions pour comprendre le « DATE » à l’américaine“, Le blog de Mathilde, a French travel blog That said, surprisingly frank questions can be asked, e.g., how much one earns and where one sees oneself in ten years.6Le mythe de l’American lover“, Madame Figaro, the women’s supplement to the newspaper Le Figaro “Whereas the French would hope for a romantic encounter to spark a relationship, Americans expect just another interview,” France-Amérique reports.

2. The Man Pays

Men expect to pay for all dates, but especially from the second date on.7Le mythe de l’American lover“, Madame Figaro, the women’s supplement to the newspaper Le Figaro8‘Date’ : cinq clés pour comprendre le rendez-vous à l’américaine“, Terrafemina, a French women’s news site

3. When to Kiss

If the first “interview” has gone well, Americans kiss at the end of the first date;9Le mythe de l’American lover“, Madame Figaro, the women’s supplement to the newspaper Le Figaro10Le « date » à l’américaine, un jeu de l’amour, pas du hasard“, Rue89, a popular French news site11‘Date’ : cinq clés pour comprendre le rendez-vous à l’américaine“, Terrafemina, a French women’s news site in the most classic version, the man accompanies the woman to her home and kisses her in the doorway.12‘Date’ : cinq clés pour comprendre le rendez-vous à l’américaine“, Terrafemina, a French women’s news site13Le « date » à l’américaine, un jeu de l’amour, pas du hasard“, Rue89, a popular French news site It will probably be a “French kiss” — and yes, “Americans actually use this expression,” notes Mathilde.

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The French, incidentally, don’t linguistically fob off their slobberier makeouts as an import. They have various expressions for the act; rouler une pelle — to turn the spatula — is particularly popular.

4. Arranging the Second Date  — The Game of Pretending You’re Not Desperate by SMS

Madame Figaro reminds French women in the States to not send the first SMS after an encounter, so as not to seem “desperate”. The man, also pretending to be busy and not desperate, will generally follow a “three-day rule” in waiting to text the woman for a second date.14Les Français et l’art (pas toujours maîtrisé) du “date’” France-Amérique, the French newspaper of the USA15Le « date » à l’américaine, un jeu de l’amour, pas du hasard“, Rue89, a popular French news site

5. When to Have Sex

“A romantic relationship should move forward little by little in order to avoid a potential misunderstanding (wherein your partner could think you just want a one-night stand),” notes Meetic. “On the other hand, if nothing has happened by the fourth date, you can start to worry.” Terrafemina says that sex is generally on the third date, and Rue89 says it’s on the fourth.

6. Bases

Americans describe their degree of sexual activity with bases (from baseball),16La culture du dating à l’américaine“, Meetic, a French dating site17Les 20 expressions pour comprendre le « DATE » à l’américaine“, Le blog de Mathilde, a French travel blog in contrast to the French vitesses (switching into various gears). Tipsy Pilgrim has previously covered these and other cultures’ ways of rating one’s sexual conquests.

7. “Just Dating”

“You’d think, after a first kiss, that there were only two possibilities,” says Mourad Zeggari in his blog entry on dating in the United States. “Either it’ll be a relationship that’s just sex, or what we call a normal relationship. However, kissing or sleeping with someone who you are going to see again doesn’t mean that she’s your girlfriend.”

All of the sources I consulted for this article had to spill a lot of ink explaining Americans’ first-stage “just dating” concept to their French readership. “Parodoxically, in this clearly monogamous context, it’s not cheating to have various overlapping romances during the dating period,” says Terrafemina. “You can go out with three, four or even more people.”

“Dating” is defended by Laure Danglade, a French writer with a novel on the subject. “The good thing about it is that it’s honest. […] Americans don’t want to close any doors until they’re really sure that they’re attached to someone.”18Quoted in “Les Français et l’art (pas toujours maîtrisé) du “date’” France-Amérique, the French newspaper of the USA The French pickup artist site FrenchTouchSeduction also gives the behavior a thumbs up, saying it avoids the “hypocritical pretense of being exclusive from the moment of the first kiss”.

But Americans keeping their options open is exactly what bothers the male blogger Zeggari, as well as the female blogger Anne: “Americans always have a plan B or C waiting, and we’re just one of the many life preservers floating there.”19Quoted in “Les Français et l’art (pas toujours maîtrisé) du “date’” France-Amérique, the French newspaper of the USA

8. The Talk: Defining the Relationship

In order to move on from the period of “just dating” or “hooking up”, it’s necessary to have a conversation in which you “define the relationship”.20Les 20 expressions pour comprendre le « DATE » à l’américaine“, Le blog de Mathilde, a French travel blog21La culture du dating à l’américaine“, Meetic, a French dating site22Quoted in “Les Français et l’art (pas toujours maîtrisé) du “date’” France-Amérique, the French newspaper of the USA This is when Americans become exclusive23Les Français et l’art (pas toujours maîtrisé) du “date’” France-Amérique, the French newspaper of the USA24Le « date » à l’américaine, un jeu de l’amour, pas du hasard“, Rue89, a popular French news site and can begin to refer to each other as “boyfriend and girlfriend”25Le « date » à l’américaine, un jeu de l’amour, pas du hasard“, Rue89, a popular French news site26Les 20 expressions pour comprendre le « DATE » à l’américaine“, Le blog de Mathilde, a French travel blog. The Talk generally happens after three or four months.27Le « date » à l’américaine, un jeu de l’amour, pas du hasard“, Rue89, a popular French news site28Les Français et l’art (pas toujours maîtrisé) du “date’” France-Amérique, the French newspaper of the USA29Les 20 expressions pour comprendre le « DATE » à l’américaine“, Le blog de Mathilde, a French travel blog

9. “I Love You”

You do not generally say “I love you,” according to Rue89, before six months of relationship, or you risk losing all of your power. And, according to Mathilde, “Shockingly, we can also say ‘I love you’ between girls, without any romantic intentions.”

10. Women Dream of It, Men Fear it: Marriage

At the risk of being accused of writing bullshit relationship advice, I’d just like  to remind you all that this article is not prescriptive; it is a report on French reports on American dating. OK dears? Back to business…

“American women are obsessed with their dream of a perfect wedding, and men know it,” says Terrafemina, and others30Les 20 expressions pour comprendre le « DATE » à l’américaine“, Le blog de Mathilde, a French travel blog31Les règles du Dating“, Châtelaine, a French-Canadian women’s magazine note likewise.

American men, meanwhile, “are terrified of the idea of being manipulated into commitment”.32Quoted in”Le mythe de l’American lover“, Madame Figaro, the women’s supplement to the newspaper Le Figaro

Illustration by former roommate Johanna Thomé de Souza, capturing one of the author's moments of cross-cultural revelation.

Illustration by my one-time roommate Johanna Thomé de Souza, capturing one of my moments of cross-cultural revelation.

Best of luck, dear readers…

… for any of you hope to enter the “regimented” world of American dating. More intrepid readers may even wish to reverse-engineer all this to get some idea of French romance (and of course check out our other TP articles on the surreal, complex world of French sexuality).

Personally, I hope never to dip into either of these messy soups of romance ever again. Did you know that Catalan girls are so, so lovely?

Notes   [ + ]

1, 16, 21. La culture du dating à l’américaine“, Meetic, a French dating site
2, 3, 31. Les règles du Dating“, Châtelaine, a French-Canadian women’s magazine
4, 10, 13, 15, 24, 25, 27. Le « date » à l’américaine, un jeu de l’amour, pas du hasard“, Rue89, a popular French news site
5, 17, 20, 26, 29, 30. Les 20 expressions pour comprendre le « DATE » à l’américaine“, Le blog de Mathilde, a French travel blog
6, 7, 9. Le mythe de l’American lover“, Madame Figaro, the women’s supplement to the newspaper Le Figaro
8, 11, 12. ‘Date’ : cinq clés pour comprendre le rendez-vous à l’américaine“, Terrafemina, a French women’s news site
14, 23, 28. Les Français et l’art (pas toujours maîtrisé) du “date’” France-Amérique, the French newspaper of the USA
18, 19, 22. Quoted in “Les Français et l’art (pas toujours maîtrisé) du “date’” France-Amérique, the French newspaper of the USA
32. Quoted in”Le mythe de l’American lover“, Madame Figaro, the women’s supplement to the newspaper Le Figaro