Cross-Cultural Dating – The Distant American

This past Tuesday I went to “La Cave” (a foreign dinner exchange thing) and got into a conversation with a French friend about his shambled love life. He, a Frenchman, had been dating an American girl, but they ran into a major problem: distance.

Now, I mean distance in multiple senses, even if he didn’t. I’m going to touch on a few differences.

1) To say “I love you” in French you say, “Je t’aime.” To say that you like someone would be “Je t’aime.*” Now, you don’t have to speak French to see the interesting similarity here. In fact, the French, famed as the people of romance. Don’t have a different word for “like” and “love.”

2) Americans come from two traditions that combine to make Americans generally more physically distant than the French.

A) The first culturally American people (basically the people who were not Natives) were Puritans. This has instilled several basic aspects of American culture still in place today: temperance (aka not drinking alcohol), abstinence (leave room for the Holy Spirit please), individualism and a hard work ethic. For the moment, the most important of these for me is the “abstinence” bit. Because (at least on some cultural level. Argue about the ’60’s sexual freedom thing all you want, America is still pretty “abstinent”). this means that Americans are much more tentative to interact intimately with other people**.

B) America is freaking huge. In fact, America is about 14.5 times the size of France. Look at the difference in space between Aix and Indianapolis, Indiana.




Indiana State Capitol Police criuser in Indian...

All this combines into an interesting dilemma for my French friend: his girlfriend is distant in a very physical and American kind of way. She feels close to him mentally, so she is fine. But he, being French, feels that physical proximity is necessary. That’s how you show affection and you learn that from being in close contact with your family.

It’s an interesting dilemma to hear, although unfortunate for my poor friend.

*So really you would say “Je t’aime bien” which means “I like you well” and gives the French some means of differentiating, but the central point is still accurate. To make their meaning clear the French have to use the modifier “bien” to make the difference clear.

**Obviously I just way overgeneralized, but I think you could still say the culture in America is very abstinence-oriented, even if sex has become a lot more accepted. This part of our culture is developing and changing, but it’s not nearly on the French level and I don’t think they’ll be comparable for a while yet.


Quick Note on Friendship

You know, just the other night I was with a group of French when I saw another American studying in Aix that I know passing by, and we waved and said “hi” and she continued on her way. Very normal for us Americans, that’s just how it goes. But the French people were all confused. They were like, “Americans are so distant. It’s weird.” Because they stop, “bisent” (cheek kisses) and chat for a bit. And it made me think for a minute.

Because, in a sense they have a point. I mean, I find the French colder than Americans, but they do have a good point in that we engage in that very superficial kind of greeting very often.

But here’s a secret about me: Even if I just wave and say hello to my friends. I would hardly hesitate to do anything for them. It doesn’t matter what they need, what they have done, or even how they have treated me. I might be individual in that. But I actually do believe in love. In honesty. In helping other people. In forgiveness. And maybe that causes me pain sometimes, but that is when I turn to friends who will do the same for me. For those I count my friends, and they are many, I will say that I will always love them and listen to them.

But distant. No. Perhaps in the sense that we are far, that we don’t just engage in familiar conversation. But when I say “hello, how are you?” It’s an invitation. And that’s where us Americans get the completely opposite stereotype of being welcoming as well. Because, well. We are.


My apologies to the people who read this blog to know about France and my experiences there. Ha. I’ve been a bit…distracted. There will be plenty of updates soon on many things French. Well. As long as I can remember what “French” is versus “US” cause I think I’m starting to lose my conception of the two.