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Date like a Local
25 October, 2012 12:29
Finding love is tricky business. It can be made even more difficult by moving abroad. Cross cultural courtship is a minefield in social etiquette. The protocols and practices of dating vary considerably from country to country, and from person to person. Relationships may be fleeting, or life-long with dating treated as recreational or a serious precursor to engagement and marriage. If you can figure out how to date and with whom, international love can be at your fingertips.
In our new series of "____ Like a Local", we provide tips to avoid the worst faux pas and an overview of standards around the world. (For more tips on fitting in, read Eat Like A Local, Talk Like a Local, Tip Like a Local, Stay Healthy like a Local and Greet Like A Local).
Below we provide a guide of established standards and practices. However, different countries within the regions and different people may interpret or ignore these rules entirely. While this guide should help you avoid embarrassment, what is most important in any situation is to try to be respectful and courteous. Good intentions can take care of all sorts of "bad manners".
As with many places, Africa is a large continent with widely varying
dating cultures. This is not always recognized by outsiders, but
remembering this fact will serve expats well. Here are some general
guidelines for Africa in general, and several highlighted countries.
- Many societies within Africa are not as progressive as the
Western world in regards to women's rights. This is often tied in with
the Islamic religion. This does not necessarily mean that women are not
revered. Be sensitive to this dynamic.
- African men tend to be chivalrous. If you are an expat man or women, recognize that this would be expected.
- Many Africans have expatriated or have a close friend or family member that has. This shared experience can help you bond.
- Poverty and civil wars plague many countries in Africa, giving
many people in Africa a more balanced perspective on life. They value
comforts others may take for granted.
- Many Africans speak 2 (or more) languages. Learning the local language can help you connect.
- Be ready to get involved in big fun family life as families here
tend to be large and exuberant. Extended family is almost as important
as the nuclear family. Family is of utmost important to many Africans.
As an Arab country, most people follow Islamic law which strongly
dictates dating culture. Egyptian men hod the power and lead the
relationship. Short-term relationships and flings are usually taboo for
women. Men, however, can have multiple partners. Dating in Egypt is
predominantly done under family supervision, usually in a public area.
Ethiopia is a composite of more than 70 ethnic groups. Arranged
marriages are most common in Ethiopia with a minimal amount of dating.
In some cases, elders are sent to the girl's family on behalf of the
boy's family or courtship after a friendly meeting between boy and girl
such as at a market place or holiday is allowed. Marriages link families
in Ethiopia since the dowry paid by the family of the bride is often
Most Moroccans practice Sunni Islam and are of Arab and Berber ethnic
background. Cross cultural couples often need to adjust to the Islamic
standards. Some men or women will not date a man or women who does not
conform to Islamic roles. There may also be substantial family pressure
for interreligious dating.
Men in Nigeria generally adore take care of their ladies, and expect the
same in return. They often demand the dominate role and respond well to
be taken care of during the dating experience. Women are equally
strong-willed with powerful personalities. Both men and women have a
reputation for having high libidos. If unsatisfied, they may find
Africa's most international country also offers complicated dating
rituals. The history of apartheid still defines many people's
relationships with each other and can make people highly suspicious of
foreigners, including other Africans.
Asia is a mix of traditional approaches coming to terms with a modern
world. Parents and extended families are often involved in their
children's relationships from advice to arranged marriages.
- Big cities understandably have the best dating scenes for expats.
Expats often congregate in expat areas making dating other foreigners
extremely common. However, people who interact with the local population
can find fulfilling relationships with locals and a better connection
to the place in which they live.
- Good education means a good future so be prepared for questions
about your education, financial status and business opportunities.
- Age and health are not treated as private matters and are a frequent topic of conversation.
- Though divorce is becoming more common, ladies who have been
divorced or widowed may be viewed as lesser than their single
- Casual dating is not common across all Asian cultures. Many people only date to find a spouse. Be clear about your intentions.
- Most Asian cultures require a man to pay for dinners, shows, and
other expenses. Sharing the cost is becoming more popular in some
areas, but do not expect it.
- Study dates can be far more common than going out to parties or dinner.
- Feelings are often expressed indirectly. Be aware of subtle cues.
- Asian women have been relentlessly stereotyped and it is important
to realize that not all people act the same way. Be open to people as
- Online dating sites are growing in popularity. Some cater to the
local population, while others cater to foreigners. Of course, many of
these are aimed at western men and Asian women.
Patterns of dating are gradually changing in China. As China seeks to
advance in the global market, the people have had to change and leave by
some traditions. Traditionally, Chinese-style flirtatiousness is known
as sajiao and consists of coquettish feminine voice and girlish protestations. Zhaogu refers to the practice of Chinese women expecting to be taken care of by men. They may wish to be spoiled (guan) with gifts.
Some reports have stated that modern Chinese women with an advanced
education have had trouble balancing education and relationships, as
well as worrying is their academic credentials may scare away more
traditional Chinese men. Professional single women often have a clear
idea of what they are looking for with exacting standards of how much
they should make, what age, and social standing. More and more people
choose not to get married, have children, or to postpone these events.
Another element to be dealth with is simply the lack of privacy. In a
country of 1.3 billion, where children often live their parents until
marriage, it can be extremely difficult for a couple to find time alone.
One way around this dilemma is for couples to study together. Study
dates are common among the school aged set. For the slightly older
crowd, matchmaking events are common.
November 11th is an unusual unofficial holiday in China known as
"Singles's Day". Encouraged by worried parents, singles are encouraged
to make an extra effort to find a partner. Some people reach out
actively looking for dates, while others look at the day more cynically.
Singles's Day offers a way to demonstrate your stance on love and
Dating in India is heavily influenced by the custom of arranged
marriages. This allows for little socializing before marriage with
couples chosen from the same caste, religion and economic status.
However, the institution of arranged marriage is undergoing rapid
change. So-called "love marriages" are becoming more accepted as the
country itself continues to modernize. During the interval before
marriage, whether it's an arranged or love marriage, private detectives
may be hired to check up on a prospective bride or groom.
Dating websites are becoming popular in India. Even the subculture of transsexuals and eunuchs (hijras or alis) have begun using Internet dating in some states in India.
While the Japanese have many things in common with other Asian cultures,
there are significant differences. Japanese tend to be more
independent, dislike discussing personal matters right off, and may be
uninterested in financial or social status. It is also less common for
children to continue to live with their parents after their early 20s.
Be aware that there are far more Japanese women dating foreign men than
Japanese men dating women. First dates are often informal, consisting of
going out for a coffee. It is still typical for the gentleman to make
the first move. Japanese culture thrives on "cute" so don't be aware
this may affect dress, language, and attitude. Want to make the first
move but your Japanese is at a beginner level? Try "Rock, paper,
scissors" (Janken). This game is well-known and can help you get talking.
The traditional practice of Omiai may still be engaged in. It
refers to the practice of parents hiring a matchmaker. The matchmaker
provides resumes and pictures of potential mates, hopefully leading to a
formal meeting with parents and matchmaker attending. If the couple has
a few dates, they're often pressured by the matchmaker and parents to
decide whether or not to marry.
Singapore's largest dating service, Social Development Unit
(or SDU), is actually a government-run dating system. Originally it
only promoted marriages among university graduate singles, but as that
was controversial, it now simply promotes meaningful relationships.
Vietnamese do not ordinarily date without the goal of marriage. Let your
intentions be known, and acknowledge that a meet-the-parents usually
occurs early in the process. Gaining a parent's permission to date their
daughter is a traditional and respectful way of getting a Vietnamese
girl to date you. Initiating a date as a woman is often frowned upon in
Vietnamese culture as a sign of an "easy" woman.
A traditional first date should consist of something low-key and not
too intimate, like a walk in a park or cup of coffee. Early dates should
operate on the platonic level, even within a group of mutual friends.
Avoid initiating physical contact because premarital affection may be
looked down on.
Australians are known for being easy going, and this often extends to
the dating world. Most teens go out in large groups and don't formally
pair off until they are 18 or 19 years old. "Dating" is often regarded
as a new American custom with people often informally meeting as friends
until finally labeling themselves boyfriend/girlfriend. Standards are
often ignored. Girls may ask out boys and pay for the date, online
dating is common, and casual sex is not heavily stigmatized. One-night
stands or "hooking up" is the norm. However, note that while asking for a
date by text message is permissible, breaking up by text is not.
- People often meet at dinner parties or from personal
introductions by friends and family. Online dating and seeking out
people to date is becoming more well known, but many people prefer to
let it happen organically.
- Dating is often a group event. People within a group of friends
may pair up, and even after they are "official" they may still primarily
go out with a group.
- People generally date one person at a time.
- Europeans tend to be relaxed about dating and do not subscribe to a certain standard of "rules".
- Nudity is a part of day to day life whether it be at the beach, the spa, the gym or just about anywhere else.
- People general dress more formally than people in places like
the United states. Jeans, sneakers, or ripped clothing may be
unacceptable for a first date.
- European men and women don't typically define themselves by their careers. Focus conversation on interests.
In the U.K., one estimate is that 15 million people are single, and half
of these are seeking a long-term relationship; three-quarters of them
have not been in a relationship for more than 18 months. Dating usually refers to the tentative exploratory part of a relationship. If two people are going out together,
it may mean their relationship has advanced to a relatively
long-standing relationship. Despite many people being together for
years, it is not uncommon for young couples to put off marriage until
into their thirties, or indefinitely.
Meeting on a dating website, speed dating, and email correspondence
are fairly common. It is estimated that almost five million Britons (out
of 62 million) have visited a dating website in the past twelve months.
The most common places to meet a mate are still probably in the
workplace, through friends, or in a pub.
Formerly strict dating criteria have loosened along with the growing
international and fast-paced lifestyle of the UK. Men may ask women out
or women may ask men out. Either may pay for the bill, or they may split
it. First dates can be the classic dinner and a movie, or any variation
you can think of. British social customs (or stereotypes) of
politeness, failure to speak out, reluctance to engage in physical
affection can be charming, or annoying depending on your perspective.
France is known as a country of romance, but it can be a difficult place
for new expats to find love. French singles generally spend time in
groups as friends. People to get to know each other slowly, and allow
romance to develop over time. Courtship is a relaxed affair with few
hard and fast rules. Relationships often go unlabelled so things can
develop more organically.
The French have a reputation of being aloof or uninterested. True or
not, the signs that someone is interested in you romantically can be
quite subtle. Watch for lingering eye contact and an open and friendly
manner. Perhaps because of these minute signals, French men can be very
persistent and French women often play hard to get.
Despite their reputation as serious and unromantic, many locals and
expats date and find love in Germany. On the contrary, some German men
are surprisingly sensitive (even to the point of insecurity). Both sex's
tend to be up front about their expectations, and disappointments.
The dating scene is generally quite traditional, with a man expected
to asking a woman out and paying for the date. This does not mean there
isn't a fair bit of dating around. People frequently have many
short-term relationships during the twenties and beyond, and Germans
marry at an older age than in places like the USA. It is also not
uncommon for people to never marry and live in long term partnerships.
People often meet through friends, or through membership in voluntary
associations. Germans are often engaged in a number of clubs and groups.
When meeting for a date, the cliché of German punctuality rings true.
Fashionably late is just not in good taste.
Italians have a reputation as great dressers, lovers, and believers in
romance. Appreciation for a women's looks can be heard in the frequent
catcalls and whistles, and most couples dream of the elaborate wedding
with many children to follow. However, it's not all romance for the
Italians. Women are often concerned with finding a financially stable
mate. Dating is usually lengthy, with the purpose of marrying. The
culture is generally conservative and flings or one-night stands may be
looked down upon.
Family is of vital importance to most Italians. An Italian man's
mother approval is vital for an ongoing relationship. Daters should
expect exuberant praise and the vocal admissions of love and admiration.
Chivalry is highly respected with small acts like opening the door for
the lady and the man paying for the bill are highly valued.
Online dating has slowly caught on and more and more people are using relationship sites.
Dating in Russia does not differ that much from western countries, but
some things that are uniquely Russian. People are often standoffish and
can appear cold - especially to strangers - but this is merely a
cultural difference. Introducing yourself and allow the relationship to
develop slowly. Display characteristics like confidence, intelligence,
and humor to attract others. Russians are usually not in favor of public
displays of affection. They do, however, tend to have a very small
personal space and often stand closer together than other people.
Women's day (March 8 ) is a very important day in Russia. It honors
the special lady in your life with flowers, gifts, or a night out.
- Religion dictates much of the Middle Eastern social scene.
Familiarize yourself with the religious norms of your area. For example,
the Muslim religion forbids the consumption of alcohol and pork.
- Family and honor are of tantamount importance. Take care to avoid insult to a person, their reputation, or their family.
- Sex without marriage is generally considered unacceptable.
- Many Middle Easterners have spent time abroad, or are familiar
with Western traditions. If you're unsure about their expectations, ask.
Dating is rare in Afghanistan. Schools separate boys and girls and
opportunities to meet are rare. Most marriages are arranged by parents.
Since 1979, the state has become a religious autocracy which imposes
Islamic edicts on matters such as dating. Thus- dating is illegal and
this law is enforced by the police. Teenagers are kept sperate until
they are of marrying age. Even if they could meet, dress code
restrictions can be a barrier towards attracting mates.
The Iranian government promotes marriage with online courses,
courtship classes where students can earn a diploma, or through
matchmaking and arranged marriages. Clerics also run officially
sanctioned internet dating agency with strict rules. Prospective couples
can meet under strict supervision, at a center or in a brief encounter
on their own. After this meeting, they may choose to marry or agree to
never see each other again. Once you are married, adultery can be
punished by death.
Marriages and courtship in Pakistan are influenced by traditional
cultural practices and Muslim norms and manners. Illegitimate
relationships before marriage are considered a social taboo and social
interaction between unmarried men and women is encouraged at a modest
and healthy level. Couples are usually wedded through either an arranged
marriage or love marriage. Love marriages are those in which the
individuals have chosen a partner whom they like by their own choice
prior to marriage, and usually occur with the consent of parents and
family. Arranged marriages on the other hand are marriages which are set
and agreed by the families or guardians of the two individuals where
the couple may not have met before. In either cases and in consistency
with traditional marital practices, individuals who marry are persuaded
to meet and talk to each other for some time before considering marrying
so that they can check their compatibility.
Although UAE is an Islamic country, it is very tolerant western culture.
It is actually majority expats - at close to 90 percent. It is
extremely difficult for a foreigner to date a local, but dating among
expats is common. There are many single events and "Ladies Nights".
Online dating is also popular.
- Traditionally, men ask the women out and pay for the date.
- There is an emphasis on finding "the One". Many believe you have one true love.
- People are often defined by what they do, so talk about careers and day to day worklife is common.
- Some people follow elaborate rules (like don't have sex with
someone til the third date). These are often advertised as ways to find
not just a long-term relationship but a spouse.
- It is acceptable for people to meet potential mates through
friends and family, out at bars or restaurants, or on online dating
"Finding the one" is the goal of many people in Mexico. Raised on telenovelas, the ideal pursuit is to woo through praise and presents and then live happily ever after.
Family values are extremely strong and it is important to be
friendly with a person's family, as well as the individual. Gender roles
are very distinct in Mexican households. Women are taught to be
submissive while the men are the dominant figures in the home.
Conversely, men are supposed to live up to an idea of machismo (masculinity). Single woman over 30 are frequently viewed as sad, lonely person.
Mexican flirtation - love it or hate it - often consists of catcalls
and whistling. Courtships usually marked by flowers and gifts to the
lady. And verbal exchanges are often teasing, passionate, and loud.
Public displays of affection are not uncommon, although much of the
countries adherence to Catholicism may make these advances unwelcome,
especially for the older generation. In theory, Mexicans wait until
becoming engaged or even a wedding before they become sexually active.
If a woman is to become pregnant before marriage, it is not uncommon for
the couple to rush to get married before giving birth.
Foreigners are generally well received. Strangers are generally
friendly and will approach outsiders. Mexican woman may be attracted to
foreign men, but many are wary. There is a long history of foreign men
dating Mexican women, than leaving them without marrying them.
Americans are frequently on the hunt for love. This theme dominates
books, tv, movies, and conversation. Dating, by mutual consent of two
single people, is the norm. Many American begin dating as teens, with a
classic American love story of high school sweethearts marrying and
living happily ever after. The country's large size, different immigrant
backgrounds, and large number of individual philosophies make it
difficult to generalize.
Traditionally, men ask the women out and pay for the date. This is no
longer a standard and while some people consider adhering to these
rules good manners, other feel they are old fashioned. While most people
meet at a young age through friends, family, school, clubs, or church,
older couples often meet at bars or online. No-strings-attached flings
or one night stands, often called "hooking up" and involving anything
from kissing to sex, is not uncommon. This kind of behavior is less
desirable outside of big cities or in middle America. It is also not
unusual for a person to date several people at once before getting
serious with one.
Complicated rules dictate social norms and it up to each individual
how closely they follow these rules, or if they are completely
disregarded. A man shouldn't assume that a woman will want to have any
physical contact with him unless she has made clear signs. A chaste kiss
on the lips may be expected at the end of a first date, while the third
date may indicate it is "ok" to have sex. Again - these rules may be
strictly adhered to, another set of rules may be in place, or there may
be no rules at all. It all depends on the individual. Usually (but not
always) how quickly the parties contact each other after the date is an
indication of how much they enjoyed the date or each other.
- A majority of the population in Latin America identifies as
Catholic, so the religious customs and beliefs often guide the cultural
norms. There are also large population of indigenous people in South
America with their own specific traditions and expectations regarding
dating and marriage.
- At the same time, flirtations are a constant occurrence. Many
people flirt with everyone and are comfortable with their sexuality.
There can also be a high degree of infidelity.
- Latin America largely subscribes to traditional gender roles in
which men provide for the family, and women care for children and the
household. It is customary when dating for a man to hold open the door,
pay for the date, and be generally chivalrous or detallista (attentive to the details).
- In general, dating is more formal than in North American or
Europe. The majority of people are looking for a long-term relationship
resulting in marriage. Women are pressured to delay sexual relations
until after marriage.
- Families often meet a potential suitor. Mothers have a place at
the center of the family and a mother's approval can make - or break- a
- Inter-racial or cross-cultural relationships can also be quite taboo depending on the person and social circle.
- When of an appropriate age, usually over 15, most people date in
large groups. They will go out together to clubs, restaurants, or
parties and be heard to sperate and talk to one-on-one. Wednesday and
Thursday nights frequently offer ladies night at discotecasat, making them a great place to meet new people. Friday nights are popular, with Saturday nights the busiest nights of the week.
- Because many people live at home and sexual relations are not
possible there, love motels are widely available throughout the country.
Brazil is very liberal sexually and encounters can be taken very
lightly. However, children in Brazil may not move out until they are
married, making a romantic relationship subject to the family's
approval. relationships usually start as a friendship that slowly
develops into an exclusive arrangement. It is generally not acceptable
to date several people at once.
Colombians are outgoing and fun loving, but it can be hard to connect -
especially for a foreigner. Many women are opening to chatting and will
even offer their number, but never actually commit to a date. If they do
commit, beware that it is not uncommon for your date to simply not show
up. Many expats recommend having a back up plan for just such an
occasion. Another obstacle is that many people live at home into
adulthood, and girls are frequently given a curfew. Respect the curfew
as angering the family may mean an end to the relationship.
Expats in Love....or Trying to Find Love Abroad
More stories of cross-cultural love can be found in the expat blogs listed on BlogExpat Directory.
If you are looking for places to go, check out the entertainment section in EasyExpat's city guides.
Looking for friends, or maybe something more? Connect with other expats and locals on the forum. Valentines Around the World can also help you familiarize yourself with traditions in your area.
We realize this article does not fully address same-sex relationships
and are looking to address this in a later article. Have a post you'd
like to share? Leave a link in the comments!