Each time I bring up this subject on Instagram, you are many and many to respond! Either because the North American version of the concept of love relationships doesn’t make much sense to you and leaves you a bit perplexed or because you have not yet ventured on this path and you are curious to know the differences between Europe and North America. I’ll try to explain it all to you, sit down, have some chocolate and a hot tea!
In the same way that friendships are very different in North America, love relationships also have a whole bunch of codes that we don’t master at all and that discourage many immigrants who prefer to return to their native countries to find love. How many times have I heard people (especially women) telling me that it is difficult to find love in Canada (especially in Toronto which is one of the biggest cities in North America) and that they are considering returning to their homeland.
L’amour à la française
First of all for our foreign friends who could pass by here, here is a short summary of how it goes in France: it’s quite simple, you like someone, you kiss them, you are in a relationship. That’s it. Long story short because in real life it can take several weeks, but that’s often how I explain our vision of the French couple to Canadians. Things happen faster. The exchange of a kiss is for us the beginning of a relationship, no need to discuss it, no need to make diagrams and calculations: we like each other, we kiss each other, we are together and that’s it. It works well good for you, it doesn’t work you break up and it happens without rancor (more or less let’s be honest haha) and we move on with our lives. The other option is the well-known, and more or less appreciated, friends with benefits relationship. A relationship based solely on sexual relations where neither of the protagonists expect more. Well, in reality there is often one of the two who gets carried away and wants more, but on paper it works like that and the rules are established beforehand.
North American dating
American-style relationships are much more codified. You have to go through the dating process. It’s actually like a little job interview, but for love. There are steps to follow and the big difference is that “dating” someone doesn’t make you exclusive by default. For a lot of French people it’s a new concept because for us this conversation doesn’t take place unless we don’t want to be exclusive (aka friends with benefits).
So dates follow one another, keeping in mind that your crush can possibly, eventually, continue to see other people and continue to initiate new relationships while your little sweet heart melts with love for him/her. It’s a bit of a loose end and a lot of unprepared French people get screwed over and find themselves dating someone for several months, thinking they’re on the same page, building something together and end up on the sidelines overnight.
Because, yes, we date several months, without being exclusive, continuing to go shopping from right to left until the big moment: THE TALK. The conversation that makes the couple official. Remember in the TV shows when Brandon asks Brenda if she wants to be his girlfriend? Or when one of them asks: What are we?? Well that’s what it’s really like in real life. If you’ve gone through the steps of several dates and have been chosen as the big winner of the race for love you should have the talk to put a label on your relationship. In practice it can take several months, we often hear between 3 and 6 months of dates before being official.
There are a few other little things that I think are important to point out to try to be as close to reality as possible:
First of all, the explosion of dating applications that certainly allows the shyest people to gain confidence and to launch themselves in front of their phone before the physical meeting, but which reinforces this idea of consuming relationships. We choose who we like from a catalogue, through a few photos, a few traits, a job, while talking to 45 other people at the same time. Nothing very personalized, no real chance to know one person more than another. I know it works for some people and good for them, but I find that most of the time this access to always more impoverishes the quality of the relationships.
Do you remember the show “The bachelor” which actually only survived a few seasons in France? I seem to remember that in France the French public didn’t really like the idea of “seeing several people at the same time”, “having ten or so women going after the same person”, etc. I think that the French public didn’t really like it. In the United States the 24th season began last January. It took me a long time to understand that the show was completely built on the model of American dating and that culturally it was perfectly acceptable for them that the bachelor goes on one date after another, makes out with all the girls but doesn’t get involved with anyone. I remember I was shocked that he would kiss several girls and then ignore them without getting in any trouble. Anyway, all that gives you an idea of what it’s like on this side of the ocean.
Women/Men relationships in Canada
If in France as women we suffer from street harassment here it is the opposite, men don’t look, flee from the glances that are thrown at them and only very rarely try something. I know, having experienced it but also having heard you say it dozens of times, it is very destabilizing. Not that we complain that we are no longer harassed by disrespectful guys who use flirting techniques that have never had any success in the history of mankind, but we have to get used to this new life without any surprise seduction.
Several things explain the behaviour of these gentlemen. Here harassment is taken very seriously and a false step can quickly cost them a lot (I’ve heard several stories of guys being fired for a remark considered sexist at work). Men are therefore much more cautious and clearly on the defensive and leave little room for the spontaneity that we Latin people are used to. The second thing is that the ladies here are not always very cool and a bit aggressive when a man dares to offer them a drink in a bar for example. I’m really trying to say this objectively and not judging but I’ve been wanting to write this article for over 2 years so I’ve heard stories and I’ve been told several times that the way some ladies decline a drink or a compliment is not really encouraging and doesn’t help develop self-confidence. In short, a scalded cat is afraid of hot water, little guys.
The notable differences between the couple in France and the couple in Canada:
- The relationship to money: without wanting to make a generalization, but money plays an important role in relations in North America and there is no problem asking for salary on the first date, while in France the subject of money is still quite taboo. Similarly, some people will openly tell that they are looking for someone to provide for their financial needs. When I said earlier that it was more like a job interview … you know what I mean now? All aspects of your life are inspected and your professional and financial status included.
- The relationship to marriage: Canada is still more traditional than France, and marriage remains an important step. Engagement first and marriage second are seen as a sign of success.
- Independence: in France, we throw ourselves fully into the relationship, we spend every chance we have together, here we are more restrained, seeing each other twice a week can be enough, we each keep our own life and we don’t mix right away. You have to learn not to be offended, understand that it’s another aspect of the culture and not to put ideas in your head like “he doesn’t want to see me, she doesn’t want to see me”. It’s another way of looking at a couple who also come from a French culture that is more in the moment, who enjoy every opportunity, while on the other hand, Canadians like to plan, foresee and take their time.
And how is it to be with a French person?
I made my closest friends pass a surprise test (thank you for always answering my questions haha) to get their opinion and to know what they think are the most important things when you’re in a relationship with a French person. Some answers are not necessarily related to our nationality but rather to the fact that we are not Canadian and that we are immigrants here.
- They find us very direct. For those less familiar with Canadian culture, it should be noted that the debate and conflict that we consider to be a national sport is not really common here. So our heated and passionate conversations can often surprise and destabilize the locals who often think we’re just being mad when we’re not at all just trying to find the time of the next bus (truuuuuue story of my first year here).
- They think we have a close connection with the fashion police. Let’s not try to lie to each other. As French people we are very critical on the clothing aspect and as we are quite direct… we share our opinion ! I think it’s the right time to use the expression: to be dressed for winter! Or cut him a suit. Wow, it’s interesting to see that many of our French expressions of criticism use metaphors related to clothing. Am I thinking out loud with you? Yes, I am.
- They admit that they had to adapt their communication, at least initially, and adopt a more formal way of speaking with us simply because we don’t master all the codes of Canadian slang and some conversations can become a bit complicated!
- The process of discovering the other is longer. Beginning a relationship with someone who has the same bases can go faster because we start with the same social codes. In a mixed couple we are groping our way between the 2 cultures of the relationship which are completely different as I explained above.
- The cultural references, depending on how long we live in the country we master more or less the culture, despite everything we can never catch up 25 years of life here and so we will always miss the cultural references as we can have at home with The Minikeums, our national Johnny Halliday or Evelyne Dhéliat for those who follow my stories on Instagram!
- Aspects rather related to our immigrant status, the very strong relationship we can have with our friends (especially French) here, they recognize that we are very solidary among ourselves and also understand that our friends here are our landmarks as our family here. A new point of view, a great open-mindedness and more ambition: all this is very much linked to the fact that we left everything to come here, as they say at home: we didn’t come to string pearls (it seems to me that this expression is not the same everywhere, thank you for adapting it to your region ahah).
To finish on a humorous note, one of the respondents answered “And you don’t want to make a French girl mad” to which another respondent (I have to protect my sources ahah) answered: “because you don’t understand what they are saying and you don’t know how to get out of that”. See we are having so much fun around here!
How is to be in a relationship with a Canadian?
Canada is so multicultural that many Canadians are not 100% Canadian and will already have another culture at home and the habit of juggling many cultures. In my large discussion panel composed of my friends, a few of my Instagram followers and myself, we all agree that it takes someone who is open-minded and curious enough to move forward together. Living the life of an immigrant is difficult at the social level, I have already talked about it several times but social life is a complicated stage in Canada and love relationships are no exception. You also have to keep in mind that for us who have been here for a few years, we have had time to familiarize ourselves with the local culture, whereas someone who comes into your life may be starting from scratch with French culture. And I think we can unanimously agree that our culture can be a bit intense at first (once they have tasted our bread and cheese they forget everything promised ahah).
A bit of loose advice like that because I don’t really know where to add it but I think it’s really important. A date in a noisy place like a crowded bar won’t be easy for us, even if our English is very good noise pollution can really change the atmosphere and put us in an uncomfortable position, disconnecting us from the conversation. Don’t hesitate to choose a quieter place like a café, a walk by the lake or a photo exhibition.
Tips for mixed couples
- Communicate! That’s really tip number one. I know it’s valid advice for all couples, but even more so in a couple where social codes are different and where things could quickly be misinterpreted because our normal is not our partner’s normal.
- Patience, things can take longer because each one has to adjust to the new elements that the other’s culture brings to the relationship. So it may not go as fast as you want or as fast as your old relationships or your buddies, but don’t compare.
- Mix your cultures and find common ground: don’t hesitate to tell the person you’re starting a relationship with that the dating thing is a bit overwhelming and that without putting a label on the relationship too quickly you’d like to be exclusive. A way to find yourself halfway between the two cultures.
- Take an interest in the other’s culture: ask questions, try to learn the other’s language, taste the specialties.
To sum up, in North America, they plant different seeds to see one grow, having the status of boyfriend can take months, in France, we invest ourselves early to give every chance to the relationship to work, we quickly call boyfriend. Personally I always thought it was simpler to be with a French guy from a cultural perspective and yet I changed my mind (guys don’t loose hope, it took me just 5 YEARS). It’s so enriching to be with someone with another culture (in my case he’s 2 so even better), you learn a lot about the country you live in but also a lot about your own country that you find yourself having to explain. Explain things that you have always seen and never questioned.
I wish you all to find someone who is curious, open-minded and above all that this person is French, Canadian or other, that he or she will make you laugh and cry because it is the universal language!
Lots of love on you,
See you on Instagram for the daily stories, full of good humour and good laughs!