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.


  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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