Being with a Frenchman

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Me with my Frenchman in Washington state (I’ll stop with the cute pictures soon I promise)

There are more than a few articles out there about being with a Frenchman. If you type “dating a Frenchman” into Google you’ll get pages of mostly funny articles about quirky or startling cultural differences, that are more or less stereotypes of The French Man. Here’s one in slideshow form (annoying), and here’s another with the reassuring caveat that cultural differences don’t excuse all annoying behavior. Phew, thanks.

But these funny, surprising differences are not really what I want to talk about. I want to talk about what it’s really like being with a person from another culture. I’ve been reading the articles at A Practical Wedding during my sick leave. The site was recommended by my sister-in-law and doesn’t apply much to the wedding we’ll do in France but the articles are very interesting. I recently came across this one: What Happens When Your Friends Don’t Like Your Partner. So, my friends like my partner; that’s not the point. But Anna also writes a little about what it’s like to be with someone who doesn’t heave to your cultural expectations or for your personal expectations for your life.

Unlike the stereotypical French Man, J did not say “I love you,” within two weeks of us getting together; he didn’t introduce me to his parents right away; he never sends me text messages (thank God, I believe they are a curse for new couples). We were, I guess, immediately “together” upon our first romantic encounter, but since we had all the same friends and had known each other for nine months, I think this would have been the same in the States. J does not have five different colognes lining our bathroom shelves, there’s no hair gel for his cow-licks in the morning, and he’s only started dressing well since he started dating me, really, though he is interested in what I wear and does enjoy shopping.

In terms of daily life and other boring stuff, the cultural differences are pretty livable. J has that French repartee that I don’t really have and that I sometimes find annoying. He cuts to the chase and isn’t nice just for the sake of being nice when there’s a problem. He’s frank with restaurateurs when they ask us how our meal was. He believes there is one way to drive and it is his (but isn’t that all men?), which he learned in a hilly town with a stick shift. He is friends with almost all of his exes, and consequently, so am I. He believes that French rules about eating are real rules with nutritional value behind them, always (no fruit juice with dinner! no salty snacks in the afternoon!). None of this causes too much trouble, and most of it I appreciate or at least can learn from. But it is funny that I’m able to recognize things as cultural differences when for him they are set-in-stone rules. Fortunately he is open-minded enough to travel and see the way things work in other places (Texas, Canada, India) and enjoy that without judging. Not having that, I think, would have been a deal-breaker for me!

He did find the two-liter coke bottles hilarious.

He did find the two-liter coke bottles hilarious (also, see cowlick partially evidenced here.)

In terms of the relationship, it’s hard to say whether our differences are cultural or are simply the effect of growing up and having a different take on life. J has never played games with me on any aspect of our relationship: getting together, moving in, PACSing, buying a house, deciding to get married. I don’t think that’s French though, just the sign of a good person. He wasn’t convinced we needed to get married and I don’t think he would ever have asked me. This, for me, is completely French, and I’ll try to explain why, since it’s not like American men are all popping the question at 28 years old. But it’s true that in France, marriage is a bit démodé. His cousins have kids but aren’t married, and I have plenty of colleagues in that same situation. I’ve adjusted my little girl expectations so much over the years, and been so happily surprised at so many other things in our relationship, that I could almost have lived with this one. On the other hand, J and I are both in agreement that we find the idea of a “proposal story” ridiculous (for us) and when people ask us about it we’re tempted to answer, “We talked about it together like grown-ups.”

Culture is macro and micro: I’m American and he’s French, yes. But I’m also from a family of scientists while his is working-class. We like to read books and go to museums, and they like to play sports and climb mountains. I’ve played the violin since I was seven, and he can barely clap to a beat. I grew up in Texas, and he grew up in Poitiers. All of these things are our cultures, and so far we have been very good at bridging and combining them. I try to play tennis and go climbing; he goes to museums and monuments with me. He agrees to marry me and I agree to the five-course meal.

The one thing I remain curious about is the fact that we always speak French. I believe that, especially when I first arrived in France, I don’t have exactly the same personality in the two languages. French me and English me are getting more and more similar. But I’d like J to know the English me some day and I have no idea when that will happen. I have no patience to be a teacher with him, and he doesn’t have enough motivation to go out and work on it himself.

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18 thoughts on “Being with a Frenchman

  1. Loved this post! I might write one of my own soon, because like your J, my J doesn’t quite fit the French stereotype that many people seem to have about dating a French guy. Though I do have some friends who totally did date the stereotype.

    I hear you on the engagement story. It wasn’t some grand gesture. It sort of happened. It did involve a lot of tears (as I was basically looking up things for going home), so the decision was spurred by that. It was a conversation, a joint decision. There wasn’t a ring – I didn’t have a ring until my wedding band the day of the wedding. I hated the “Let me see the ring!”, which oddly enough, only came from non French people.

    We were also the first of the grand kids to get married on his mother’s side (though there are a few who have had children). Some of the cousins on J’s dad’s side are much much older, so there are a few marriages. You’re right. It isn’t necessarily the thing to do here. Two other people in my class got married this summer, and at least one of the spouses was foreign! Granted, we’re all also older than our French classmates.

    • Besides wanting to celebrate with family, I also felt like it was just more practical as a foreigner-French couple to be married! I feel like marriage may be “in” longer where there’s that type of couple, logically.

      I like your “engagement” story too. And I did actually quiz a few of my friends about how they decided to get married before I broached the subject with J. I think a lot of people have this conversation first, and then want a proposal later. Which of course, doesn’t make sense to me, for us.

      Glad you liked this post!

      • Yeah, if it weren’t for some administrative type things looming in our future, we probably wouldn’t have already gotten married. It just made sense when we talked it all off. We knew we wanted to stay together, we didn’t want to do long-distance, we didn’t see a future that didn’t involve the other person, etc. so it just made sense.

        Which is also why we kept our wedding simple. For us, it was more about the future and not the actual day. Plus, I never wanted a huge wedding where I spend a fortune on a dress and the like.

      • And I just realized that came out a bit wrong. I know it’s always about the future (at least, I hope, or else the couple has some problems), but I meant there wasn’t a lot of pressure to make the day perfect for me.

  2. Such a great post ! And as Shannon said above … I’ll probably do one of a similar manner soon (IF our PACS goes smoothly, this will the the ideal time). Thanks for sharing and enlightening those who just don’t get it !

    • Glad you liked it! I feel like an intercultural relationship, like almost any relationship, is such a rich experience. Yet it’s become so hu-hum to me, that I forget to think about it sometimes.

      I’ll definitely read that post if you get around to it!

  3. I really like you post and I totally relate to the idea that “French Dana” and “American Dana” aren’t the same person, and I’d like people on both sides to know both. I agree that they are merging together, but it takes time 🙂

  4. We got engaged after just having a conversation as well. 🙂 I totally get what you mean about the contemporary Frenchperson’s reluctance towards marriage. Z had some of that too but you can’t just cohabit indefinitely when you’re 2 different nationalities!

    • Lol, exactly. I think maybe J doesn’t realize how much more sense it makes to be married administratively, especially since we have nothing AGAINST marriage in itself.

  5. I wonder all the time if we’re really all that different, or if there’d be even more cultural differences between me and someone from Idaho or California. Though since my husband’s family is a big mix (Moroccan, Polish, Italian, Luxembourgish) it kind of feels “American” if that makes sense, lol. They’re French but also other things too. Though with the bébé, some big differences are starting to come up that remind us we had verrry different childhoods. Hopefully the mix will make bébé’s that much more fun for him 🙂

    We talked about getting married once he had a CDI, and even started looking at venues since I’m such a planner, but the proposal was up to him and drove me craaaazy waiting for it to start really planning, haha. I think if you’re already living together, there’s usually a discussion first, which certainly isn’t how you picture it as a little girl, but it makes sense once it happens. And I always thought it was weird when people went to pick out engagement rings together, until we started talking marriage and I saw the panicked look in his eyes every time we passed by a jewellery store! Too many options! So I made a few suggestions, while leaving the final pick to him.

  6. Such a good post!

    Other than his mom, my boyfriend’s family all understand why we want to get married “young.” You can definitely tell it’s a cultural thing though, because his family was more or less expecting it (but maybe not so soon) to make living arrangements easier, whereas my family was more expecting it because we’re in a committed relationship.

    • Yeah I think my family still sees it as putting the seal on the relationship. I’m not sure it’s still seen that way in France, but maybe I’m wrong. Glad you liked the post!

  7. Very interesting, I agree with you on not wanting a big surprise proposal and that culture is more than just where you’re from. I’m glad the boyfriend speaks (almost) perfect English, because I’ve never felt like me speaking French and humour is a big thing for me in a relationship, which I’m really not great at in French.

  8. Your Frenchman sounds much more similar to mine than the stereotypical one too! I would say we were definitely in a relationship pretty much from when we started seeing each other, but everything else took time. UFM also has a very take-it-or-leave-it approach to marriage – I have the impression that in France only devoted Catholics really go for big, traditional weddings at a young age, so maybe it’s a kind of a backlash against that among not- Catholic (or not devoted) French people.

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