LF Guide to Romance in France

Kate McNally takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the world of romance and the dating game in France

Although the trend towards living together outside wedlock continues to increase throughout much of Europe and beyond, the somewhat tricky issue of what to call your non-spouse doesn’t appear to have become any easier.

Unmarried couples in the UK often adopt the official term ‘partner’ to describe the person they live with, or they might say ‘my other half’ or simply ‘my boyfriend or girlfriend’. Such words suggest respectively a sense of formality, unavoidability and teenage transience that no amount of red roses on St Valentine’s Day can redeem from withering banality.

In France this wishy-washy vocabulary would simply never do.With typical Gallic candour, the French sweep aside any notion of social awkwardness and go straight to the heart (sorry) of the matter: I love him, I cherish her, ergo I shall refer to him or her as ‘mon amoureux’, ‘ma ch�rie’, ‘mon homme’ – rousing, emotive words packed with images of secret passion and silken midnight trysts.

What’s more, they make these references in everyday conversation without the slightest embarrassment or hint of irony, which, once you get over the initial reaction of wanting to giggle, becomes rather touching. After all, following several years of unmarital bliss, is it not more reassuring to hear your de facto mate call you his darling or her beloved rather than the neutral, sexless, (business or not business?) ‘partner’?

Of course, we all know that French is the recognised language of love. The accent, the gutturals, the intensely stressed syllables all help to make ‘je t’adore’ so much more powerful than ‘I adore you’. Even asking something as simple as ‘do you like my slippers?’ – ‘mes chaussons vous plaisent?’ – sounds sensual in French! But it’s not just the words and the way they sound, it is also that the French dare to express their romantic thoughts – for them it is all part of the seduction process.

La s�duction

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French-style seduction is overt and omnipresent, as opposed to the British approach which is covert and reserved for one person at a time. Put simply, the French are incorrigible flirts who revel in the game of seduction even when there is no intention of going beyond the odd loaded, lingering look.

Indeed eye contact is often the first signal. The French love to look at people per se. French men especially love to look at pretty women and make no attempt to hide it.

It is not unusual for men to take this a step further, if considered appropriate, and strike up a conversation with a woman or slip her his number after spotting her in a caf� or on a train, for example. There is apparently less fear of rejection – which in France they make no bones about – and a greater acceptance of casual approaches.

Spontaneity and freedom are in fact key ingredients of French romance. Even as a relationship becomes more established, the French prefer to retain an element of surprise and mystery. Anywhere, any time, any how could be the mantra and woe betide anyone who tries to suggest it should be more orderly!

There are, however, a few rules worth observing:

n If you are female, while it is fine to make it clear that you are open to a Frenchman’s interest, never make the first move and be prepared to keep him guessing for a bit – he’ll love it. Letting him at least think he is making the running is a key part of the Frenchwoman’s allure, known as coquetterie.

n But don’t string someone along if you aren’t interested – in France, particularly, this would be considered bad form.

n Play the game – keep the flirting light-hearted, fun and ambiguous.

n Accept any compliments gracefully but don’t let them go to your head – remember the language of love comes easily to the French and it doesn’t necessarily mean the person is head over heels in love with you!

n Don’t panic if a Frenchman calls you minutes or hours after he first wheedles your number out of you. It doesn’t mean they are �ber keen; it’s just in France the men don’t do the initial nonchalance bit. On the other hand, once you have agreed to meet him, don’t be surprised if he doesn’t contact you for a day or two.

The dating game

According to the French, they don’t date, or at least not as we know it with all the incumbent expectations. They simply agree to meet up together, often during the daytime, for a coffee or a stroll round a museum, and take it from there. Unlike our more formal date situation, which is often an evening out, there’s no stress about what to wear, who will pick up the bill, will we have enough to talk about for a few hours.

The lack of formality continues as the relationship develops and couples can go out together for quite a long time without announcing to friends and family that they are an item. Generally, they prefer to be discreet and wait until they are sure the relationship is a lasting one before ‘coming out’. In some cases, more apparent in the educated classes, it is not unusual for a couple to introduce each other to their parents only when they are getting engaged.

Don’t mistake the informality for a lack of interest, however. A French romance is often a whirlwind, moving fast and furious – we’re talking Mediterranean passion! – which can be disconcerting for those of a more conservative disposition. The French get very swept up in their amours, which may explain why they keep it private at the outset, because it can fizzle out as quickly as it started. Affairs of the French heart are all or nothing!

Meeting your Valentine

Ways of meeting potential partners (or should I say amoureux) in France aren’t that different from in the UK. Mutual friends, family acquaintances, school or university, in the workplace, social groups or social situations such as dinner parties, weddings – all of these may assist the path of cupid’s arrow. Increasingly, internet dating, singles holidays and speed-dating are spreading through the country. Not long ago, the French wouldn’t have dreamt of seeking ‘help’ to find that someone special, but with social and lifestyle dynamics changing fast, even the world’s ultimate paramours are moving into the virtual meeting space. That said, it isn’t something openly talked about!