Dating in a second language: A guide

Dating in a foreign country while speaking a second language is a unique experience. 

It is both fun and awkward in equal parts. There is potential for life changing positive experiences but you will also have to deal with  misunderstanding and miscommunication.

Here are a few tips for navigating the dating scene in France* as a foreigner. 

When speaking a second language you will make mistakes, some will be embarrassing but most will be  comedic if only in hindsight.  Resist the urge to apologize every time you fumble your vocabulary or grammar.  As someone who is often a fly on the wall in cafes and public places, I’ve overheard many interactions both between new friends and couples on dates where one person kept apologizing every time they made a grammatical mistake. This not only interrupts the conversation flow, it also makes you appear sheepish.

Learn to laugh at yourself and above all enjoy the whole process of really being immersed in a new language. That you are learning and making an effort in a second language, you have so much freedom to make mistakes and eventually learn from them. Don’t  shrink yourself because you don’t speak with the fluency of a native speaker. Even if it might not seem so at first, even if your language skills feel terrible you are improving every day and one day you will find yourself speaking with complete fluency and wonder, when on earth did that happen?

Be aware of local customs. In France it is customary to greet by kissing twice, once on each cheek – even someone you are meeting for the first time. Greeting with a kiss in this way is unheard of in America. Whereas greeting with a hug might be normal in America it France it might send a different message.  Observe how people interact to know what is appropriate.  Another more complicated matter is the subject of paying for dates.  In my experience dating in America it went without saying that the man always paid, whether or not this is a good thing is a different discussion but when in France I spent a lot of time researching trying to figure out how things were done. I didn’t want to be awkward and I didn’t want to assume. In the end the few first dates I went on I was armed with my wallet when the time came to pay but my date was proactive and paid before I had a chance to intervene. It really depends on who the person is. I explore this in more detail later. A good rule of thumb is to assume that each person will pay for himself. 

Don’t be smitten blind by the romance of foreignness. Hearing someone speaking a different language is often swoon worthy, especially a language like French which we are programmed to hear as romantic. As such, one might easily be blinded by a charm that might not actually exist.  For me hearing French is so beautiful that I often think that someone could be insulting me but it would reach my ears as poetry.  Once I realized this I made sure to stay vigilant and maintain adequate boundaries. Take your time and actually get to know someone without fetishizing them.

Do maintain your standards. I once went on a date with a man and though I was not attracted to him (#catfished) I did enjoy the date because he spoke no English and I was able to prove to myself that I was adequately fluent in French. When the night was over and I prepared to leave he uttered a statement that must have been fueled by the two glasses of wine he drank

‘So, I go home with you now yes?’

‘No. No you do not.’ I was quite taken aback.

He then went on to insist that yes he would in fact be coming to my place, ‘But yes. It is how we do in France’

‘Well, I am not French!’ I declared and put on my coat to leave. 

Some men will try to pull a fast one when they believe you’re not aware of local customs. Foreigners can sometimes be an easy target. Don’t be afraid to say no to things that make you uncomfortable, even if it means going against the proclaimed societal norms.

Do take your time before entering into a relationship.  When in a new country before you have a chance to develop friendships or feel a part of the community, the easiest way out is to enter a romantic relationship. This is especially easy with online dating apps where a plethora of potential boyfriends are but a swipe away. Until you fully settle in to a new home it is normal to feel a bit desperate for connection and community. This could lead to rushing into a relationship with the first person who looks at you twice. But if you are quick to couple up,   you might not take the time you would need to develop platonic friendships and become part of a community outside a boyfriend and his social circle. Settling into a new home can be a roller coaster of emotions at least for the first 4 months. It would be unfair to use someone as an emotional crutch during this time and you would feel so much better having navigated on your own and with the help of new friends you can make. 

When dating in your new foreign home, the key is to take your time, be vigilant and most of all have fun!


*though I speak from my experiences in france, these suggestions can be applicable to anyone dating in a second language and a culture different to their own.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s