French-Spotting and Relationships in North America


Nicastro's, Ottawa, September 2011

I was queuing at Nicastro’s (an Italian store where you can buy overpriced delicacies from the old world—I’m a sucker for their European-sized pickles) when I noticed the couple in front of me. The guy was holding about a week’s supply of French cookies and the girl was openly eyeing huge $10 jars of Nutella.

“French” I told myself.

French-spotting is a game I love to play, especially during prime French tourist season, i.e. summer and fall.

The guy suddenly turned around to survey the queue behind him. I caught a glimpse of his blue Fédération Française de Foot t-shirt. “The queue is so long” he sighed. “I know, c’est chiant,” his other half replied.

One point for me.

I’m no detective. It’s just that French aren’t that hard to spot. Do you see a lot of Canadian guys wearing skinny jeans, a pack of Marlboro Light sticking out of the back pocket, a three-day stubble and a “the world is against me” attitude on their face?

French guys are a different specie. Yes, I know, I’m generalizing.

First, French guys aren’t as tall as Canadians. North Americans are usually bigger, and by big, I don’t necessarily mean fat. Feng, who is about 5’8, always complained he was short. I disagreed until I met his friends, all above 6’2. Most French guys I know are between 5’7 and 5’9—the ideal height to fit in a French car or in a packed subway. On the other side, Canadians need to be able to fight bears and stop hockey pucks, so evolution made them taller.

But differences aren’t just physical. Take for instance the relationship between men and women.

First there is the whole “date” thing, a long courtship process for which there is simply no proper French translation. French have words for you’re in a relationship, when you’re single, when you’re sleeping together but are not romantically involved, when you’re romantically involved but not sleeping together… but there isn’t such a thing as “dating”.

Dating is so heavily codified you’d need The Da Vinci Code’s symbologist to understand all the subtleties. It starts in high school, where guys are supposed to take women to the prom—a relatively formal event for which women shop for princess dresses and guys really hope to take that dress off in the car at the end of the night. And dating apparently only ends when, as Beyoncé put it, you “put a ring on it”.

Generally speaking, French guys are way more flirtatious than their North American counterparts, maybe because they aren’t scared of being arrested for sexual harassment. On the plus side, you can have the chance to go for a coffee with a nice stranger you just met on the street. On the downside, it means having to put up with aggressive fondling in packed public transportation and catcalls to anyone wearing a skirt in the street. And French don’t just flirt in places where you are supposed to, like bars and discos (although the former is more of a boob-watching place). They’ll be happy to French kiss you in the middle of a demonstration.

I also always felt that, in North America, both sexes worked hard to display outdated stereotypes. To be considered for a date, a guy must be good looking (that means tall, clean-shaved with big white straight teeth), pay for everything and have a car. Women, on the other side, are expected to dress a certain way (show some legs and cleavage) and be fully waxed even though the guy won’t notice it because, as The Rules say, you don’t have sex until the third date.

Men are always portrayed as sexual predator who would give up everything but Monday Night Football to have sex. Women are apparently only interested in collecting a gazillion of pairs of shoes and eventually getting married to benefit from financial security.

Frankly, I find the whole thing a bit cynical.

Sometimes, I have nightmare of having to go back to high school—a North American high school. There is no way I would manage to master the dating thing.

I’m still French when it comes to relationship.

Eh oui.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

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