French vs American dating: the French don’t date!

Jennifer Bourne - 20.05.2014 - www.MyFrenchLife.orgLove is universal. There is no such thing as French love or American love. That said, we have all agreed by now that French and Americans are different.

When it comes to love and relationships, there is the French way and the American way. If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, French and Americans couldn’t come from more different planets. From the way they meet each other to how they date, French and American people operate differently. Let’s see how…

The date: France vs America

This couldn’t be a bigger difference in the way French and Americans have romantic relationships. The French don’t date. It is that simple, and the very reason that there is no French word for date or dating. The closest equivalent to “date” would be a rendez-vous, but unless you add that it is a rendez-vous galant (romantic encounter), which sounds way too old school, this word can mean anything from an appointment at the dentist to a casual get together with your friends.

As for ‘dating’, you could say in French that you are ‘seeing someone’ (voir quelqu’un) or ‘going out with someone’ (sortir avec quelqu’un), but again, it does not quite capture the American concept of dating. As a French woman, I never had a date until I came to the US.

So how do people meet each other in France then, would you ask? They go out in groups. They socialize, get to know each other within a social group (friends, colleagues, etc.), and eventually end up together.

Jennifer Bourne - 20.05.2014 - 2

Groups mixing men and women are much more important in France, whereas in America, single sex groups seem to be more of a trend when it comes to socializing. Perhaps this explains how the French build their relationships inside of a group, and not directly on a one-on-one date.

Even when the time comes to spend time together, just the two of them, men and women won’t necessary go for dinner at a restaurant. They will go for a walk or to a museum, removing all expectations and interview-style questions that you would go through during a typical American date.

From the date to dating

Dating someone in America is more casual than in France, like a ‘trial relationship’. It seems ok to date more than one person at the same time, as long as the relationship hasn’t been defined as exclusive. In France, once you kiss, unless agreed otherwise, you can pretty much call each other boyfriend/girlfriend already. French people will then expect their special one to be exclusive: no need to say it, it’s implied.

Whether or not you want to appear as an official couple in front of your friends is another story. French people are discreet when it comes to their relationships and don’t need to make it public for it to be important in their lives.

In America, there seems to be a dating code where the couple needs to have ‘the talk’ in order to determine whether or not they want their relationship to become exclusive and therefore, officially become a couple. If not, American women are left asking “where is this relationship going?” But that is another story…

How do French relationships and dating differ to your culture? Share your thoughts in the comments box below or join the conversation on twitter!

Image Credits
1. Ruce registrované partnerství by Martin Stracho?, via Wikimedia Commons.
2. Bar Friends by Glenn Harper, via Flickr.
3. Bundesarchiv Bild 183-P0310-0025, Berlin, Straßenszene by German Federal Archive, via Wikimedia Commons.

About the Contributor

Jennifer Bourne

Born and raised in France, I became a New Yorker at heart when I moved to the US. Social media and online research are my specialties. Movies and TV series are my conversation starters. While I try to make the best out of my New York life, I stay in constant research of all things French. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

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  1. Elise Mellor Jun 18, 2014 at 12:30 PM - Reply

    As a serial monogamist this sounds ideal to me! I’m not a big fan of ‘dating’, I like to know that someone is sure that they want to be around 🙂 Dating is messy and people get disappointed, or worse, hurt, because the parameters are often ill-defined.
    I like the French idea of socialising in mixed groups – to me, that is the best way to get to know if you enjoy the company of a romantic interest.

  2. Bethany Keats Jun 18, 2014 at 9:58 PM - Reply

    US dating culture baffles me. Australia is much closer to France in this regard, however I have heard of some people expressing an interest in ‘dating around’ like in the US which I think it horribly unfair on the other people involved.

  3. Ellen Burns Jun 19, 2014 at 2:01 PM - Reply

    I like the French way much more!!
    Much better to hang out as friends first and get to know them. I have never been on a ‘first date’, I have always met my boyfriends through friends. I find the idea of a first date terrifying!! So much pressure put on each other and no guarantee to go well.. :/

  4. Llyane @FrenchOnSkype Jun 22, 2014 at 1:52 AM - Reply

    This is the very reason I couldn’t find a partner yet since I’m in America. The American way feels artificial to me, so much left brain and almost ‘contractual’, that, the right brain (the feeling, the intuition) are left way behind. People don’t allow themselves the time to use their intuition, which is crucial for a ‘romantic’ relationship. Yes, it never ‘clicked’ because the expectation of the date and its mechanics made me feel so much more that I’m ‘doing’ rather than a ‘being’. Thanks so much for sharing this – I hope that many more people would read your article 🙂

  5. Jill Craig Jun 24, 2014 at 3:42 PM - Reply

    I feel the same Ellen! I think it would be so much pressure built into a first dinner with someone who you barely know. I’d be much more comfortable with the French `system`- so I’m glad I’m in it right now 😉

  6. Jennifer Bourne Jun 24, 2014 at 11:02 PM - Reply

    I’m glad my fellow French women agree with the way I described the ‘system’, something so obvious for us is sometimes uneasy to explain!

  7. Jerry L Jul 19, 2014 at 3:46 AM - Reply

    Interestingly, this is a conversation that my wife (French) and I (American) have had on a number of occasions. While my wife agrees with the author’s viewpoints, I tend to disagree, and think that it’s a matter of semantics.

    While the article suggests that a kiss is all it takes to become exclusive, this ignores the fact that the French tend to be more liberal about casual sex. What’s the difference between a French girl that is having casual sex with 2 different men (not at the same time), and an American girl that is “dating” 2 different men and possibly having sex with each of them?

    Furthermore, American women often ask “where is this relationship going” because they want to know if the relationship will eventually lead to marriage. French women tend to ignore question NOT because they are uncertain whether they are in an exclusive relationship (as the article suggests), but rather because French tend to ignore the question of marriage altogether; as demonstrated by the increasing number of relationships who agree to have children, but are not interested in getting married.

    Until the advent of the internet, most American relationships started in groups (introductions from friends, coworkers, family, etc.). However, the internet (internet dating, meet ups, etc.) has made the process more efficient, particularly for those people who tend to have the same circle of friends, and allowed them to extend their reach beyond their circles of influence.

    IMO, “dating” and “rendezvous” or whatever you want to call it is not significantly different between the American and the French. Basically, if you’re horny, you have sex –> if there’s mutual attraction, you become a couple –> if you’re compatible, you spend more time together –> if you are no longer compatible, or one dies, the relationship ends.

    If the article was about arranged marriages vs. dating, then I would agree that there “couldn’t be a bigger difference in the way they have romantic relationships”.

    • rachel Apr 28, 2021 at 11:14 PM - Reply

      No, In France if you kiss you are dating. We don’t speak about marriage because marriage is not necessary. You are boyfriend and girlfriend and the relationship evolves into something stronger, you don’t have to talk about it. Eventually you move together and have children and you are a family. It’s simple. There are many strong non married couples with children. That’s it. And no, French women are not all sluts being easy on sex. Once you have a boyfriend you assume that he is not going to see elsewhere and you have sex together because he is your boyfriend. Unless you are a “garce”, you are not going to have sex easily with another men.

  8. Tonia Benoist Aug 5, 2014 at 12:16 AM - Reply

    Jennifer, I enjoyed your article about dating différences. You have the French insight on this that a non-French person is not able to bring to the discussion. I’m an American woman living in France married to a French man. I found the information you mentioned about how French kids meet and date is right on the money. Having 3 French stepsons, I have been fortunate to have observed the dating ‘ritual’ first hand.

    In defense of the other point of view, I want to say that I felt your article “seemed” a bit biased against the American perspective. Obviously, this is,not entirely your fault. You were not “enculterated” in the American way of life. Your observations naturally have an “outsiders” viewpoint which, by the way, are correct—as far as they go. I do appreciate, though, your attempt to minimize bias by using such expressions as “seems to” or “appears to be.” However, I believe you should go just a bit further.

    The reply from “Jerry L” expresses much more accurately the American perspective. I don’t know if Jerry L lives in France, and even though I agree with his rebuttal, he, too expresses a bit of the American bias.

    In support of the tone of Jerry L’s reply, one example I can think of about dating practices in France was the shock I felt (to say the least) when my oldest stepson started bringing his girlfriend home to spend the night. To be honest, it bothered my husband at first, too. We both eventually adapted to and accepted this behavior because I realized that French kids, who tend not to move out on their own as early as American kids do, have no where else to go. After a couple of years, they did finally rent an apartment of their own, and they’ve been together now 3 years.

    The truth is, there are advantages to both ways. When I had only been “dating” my husband for 2 months, his family began introducing me as his wife, and calling me their sister or daughter-in-law. The acceptance into the family so quickly was very touching to me. I must admit that I didn’t go as far with my own son’s wife as to call her my daughter-in-law right off the bat, but I did welcome her into the family very easily.

    I want to add, finally, (and I’m sure you’re already aware of and practice this), that everyone’s culture really ought to be judged on its own merits. I’ve listened to lots of friends’ say things about other cultures such as, “how or why do they do this or that,” or “I could never live like that.” It’s always easy to feel one’s own culture is the better one. On the other hand, I’ve seen some Americans (and some French people as well) condemn too quickly their own cultures in favor of another. Perhaps it might be better to just try to combine the best of both worlds.

    • SltLesGens Dec 26, 2022 at 2:56 AM - Reply

      Tonia I don’t know you but you are so smart and try so much to aim at objectivity in order to bring more peace that you touched me, I wish I was like you. You’re a great human being.

  9. Alice Michou Aug 7, 2014 at 7:26 PM - Reply

    Ah, finalement, un article pour prouver mes points… Merci Jennifer!
    For years since 1988, I told my American friends about this difference in concept (which I was a direct victim :-)) Since English use the word “Appointment” as in French, I assumed the word “Rendez-vous” translated to “Date”! So when my American boyfriend back then asked me where I was that he could not get a hold of me all week long… I replied that I was busy with school and many “DATES” !. the guy was furious and asked: “So how many”dates do you have this week ?” I replied: ” Well, this was the most busy week for me, so I had almost daily!” Though my English vocabulary was only a few months, I spoke it pretty clear, my friend really thought t I knew what I were talking about at first ?! Ha ha I never understand the concept of “date” anyway. Just go out to eat sounds good!

  10. pat niedo Aug 7, 2014 at 9:09 PM - Reply

    You forgot one very important thing in this really interesting article. The French go to bed much more easily than the average American, which shortens the “dating season”! Dating has been designed by men to please women in order to go to bed with them, let’s face the truth. Since it is much easier to go to bed in France, what’s the need of dating? And that’s a fact. I have NEVER heard of a French couple dating for weeks (and you are absolutely right, there is no word for dating). A French couple, if they like each other, there is no courtship involved, they kiss and might go to bed that same day… That makes it much easier and therefore no need for “dating”.

  11. sherry keough Nov 6, 2019 at 4:55 PM - Reply

    I appreciate your speaking out on regards to the french community. The language is captivating to my soul. I had a canadian grandmother who owned a restuarant in Chelsea, Ma in the 1950’s. I grew up under her roof. If it wasn’t matza balls and chicken soup ( my grandfather Jewish), i would be eating tripe, etc. As teen, I was employed as her housekeeper. I came home from school one day, opened a lid on a pot and screamed and ran out of the house. I was thinking that my grandmother (Boobie) a murder but it was yet another french delicacy in the pot. My grandmother was a chorus girl (top dancer) for gypsy rose lee the famous stripper at the Old Howard. My grandfather shot off the tires of her boyfriend’s car, puller her out and married her one week later after knowing one another only one week. on Valentines day 1939. I am a romantic and I hope I die that way.

  12. The frenchy Jun 19, 2022 at 4:14 AM - Reply

    As a French, living in France I prefer dating foreign women. It’s almost impossible to date French women unless you are within a group. And getting into a group is far from being easy.

  13. DANIEL AIKINS Jul 30, 2023 at 4:24 AM - Reply

    I am Ghanaian living in France as at this moment and i just came across this website when I am seriously doing my research and I am doing that research just because I have asked one of my coworkers outing and she hasn’t been answering to my request for past days and was trying to know and figured out the differences between French and English speaking countries when it come to dating but I am really shocked of how French culture tells how they date and this brought my attention on why there’s so many couples lived together for so many years with numbers of children without being got married and not even bother about it,but my question is,what is the wealth of your womanhood?because of only sex ?i am asking such question just because to my understanding the word dating mean studying ourselves without sex just to come to know ourselves very well with common goals and getting us to another level which is marry to pay the bride of the women if am right?how can only a kiss join you people together?

  14. DANIEL AIKINS Jul 30, 2023 at 4:30 AM - Reply

    And I have this question to be asked if any of French women can help me with?is normal and respectful in France for some one refused to answer your message when you asked for outing? Thanks

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