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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.


  1. I haven’t lived in North Amer­ica, but already think that it one thing is clear — girls get a seri­ous obses­sion on get­ting mar­ried, wed­dings and life with hus­band. I find it out­ra­geous that some girls at age 23–24 are dumped and think that this is the end of their lifes — that no guy will ever marry them anymore.

    Have you read “Aver­age Amer­i­can Male” or “The Lie”? It’s rather meant to be writ­ten for men… but you over­look that — it’s actu­ally a quite funny book to read!

    • I haven’t read the book bu thanks, I’ll try to find it.

      I com­pletely agree with you, mar­riage is a weird obses­sion here… prob­a­bly came from the mar­riage indus­try which makes big bucks.

  2. Gosh.…I dated six years before I got mar­ried and six years it seems to be I was ‘blinded’. When I looked around now, it seems that every­one just get mar­ried within a year or two and get sep­a­rated just as quickly.

    Asian men are not as roman­tic as the west­ern­ers, hope I am not stereo-typing or some­thing but Asian men are gen­er­ally con­ser­v­a­tive and it all depends on their upbring­ing as well as the envi­ron­ment they grew up in as well.

    • I see what you mean, Asian men (at least those who are the most tra­di­tional) are quite dif­fer­ent. Not worse or bet­ter just… dif­fer­ent. A bit on the macho side!

  3. This made me laugh so hard! I had a con­ver­sa­tion with my Ger­man hus­band about the game play­ing that goes on when dat­ing (wait­ing 3 days to call, then the woman not answer­ing even if she’s at home so that the guy thinks she out lead­ing an excit­ing life) and he didn’t get it, nor see the point. When it comes to dat­ing Ger­mans are direct and there’s not a lot of game play­ing going on.

    I find French men more roman­tic than Cana­dian men (in my lim­ited expe­ri­ence with French men) and I agree, they’re much bet­ter flirts. Inter­est­ing to see how the cul­tural fac­tors come into dating :)

    • So I guess Ger­mans guys are clos­est to French than to Amer­i­cans… which makes sense, the whole Europe thing.

      I wouldn’t say French are direct but there are less rules for sure.

  4. 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?”

    Hmm, I don’t know. Keep the atti­tude and skinny jeans, but replace the Marl­boros with more expen­sive cig­a­rettes and stub­ble with an ugly beard and you’ve got a hip­ster, which are every­where now! LOL

    I don’t want to gen­er­al­ize, but dat­ing here was frus­trat­ing for me! Don’t get me wrong, I love my fel­low Cana­di­ans, but the men tend to be too reserved, meek and well..boring some­times! The Euro­pean straight­for­ward approach does have its appeal! (Although, some­times aggres­sive­ness can get annoy­ing too, depend­ing on who its com­ing from!)

    • I find Cana­dian men a bit phony when flirt­ing. I.e. they prob­a­bly have been told to have cer­tain expec­ta­tions and they have been explained the rules of the game… and they play within.

      Not that I would know!

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