By: Chloe Gillmar
I arrived in Paris on a Thursday morning in late July. The following Wednesday, I went on my first date with a cute French guy. I could make up a story about how he found me sipping coffee at a sidewalk cafe, or thoroughly appreciating a Renoir painting at the Musee d’Orsay, or that he saved me from a runaway Vespa and subsequent scooter-induced injury. All of those scenarios would have been adorable and postcard worthy; but honestly, the relative speediness of this feat was accomplished through Tinder. Tinder was my introduction to the less obvious cultural differences between Americans and the French. It helped me meet people I never would have met otherwise, and I learned a lot from them.
Although I never had a strong desire to try dating apps in Austin, something about Paris flipped a switch, and I decided to make an account. I think this change was brought on by being freshly untethered from a long-term relationship, then falling into one of the most romantic places on earth; I felt compelled to meet someone. That, or my coworkers’ advice to “slut it up in Europe!” was taking root. Whatever the case, I set up a profile and put my classroom French to work. I quickly realized that beside the scarves, cute glasses, and admittedly better hair, French guys and American guys have worlds in common with one another. The aggressive reactions to ignored pick-up lines feel the same, even when prefaced with “Ça va?” and the obsession with sex is just as pervasive. One guy messaged me (in French) “my hand is 29 centimeters long,” which made absolutely no sense, until he said “well, I’m not really talking about my hand…” What a thrilling cultural difference: hearing boys talk about their junk using the metric system.
What a thrilling cultural difference: hearing boys talk about their junk using the metric system.
However, there was a nagging difference between the type of guy I was accustomed to seeing in Austin (enter semi-athletic, possibly vegan, stoner/musician) and the type I was seeing in Paris. Even on Tinder, these guys made an effort to look intellectual, serious, and successful. It seemed like every other photo I swiped past was a professional head shot of a sharp young guy in business-casual attire. I admit, at first I oohed and ahed over this attractive Parisian stereotype that kept popping up on my Tinder feed. Ooh a French doctor! Ooh a French pilot! etc. etc. etc. But after a while I noticed they were following some unspoken code of conduct. With a few exceptions, they all had the same hair, wore the same clothes, and were all looking for the same thing. More than that, they all seemed to genuinely like European house music. It became clear that their cultural differences really did add up to an interesting, but slightly disconcerting mass of French tendencies that I had to sift through. While cultural comparison anywhere is constant and exhausting, it is necessary to understand someone’s perspective if you intend to know them well. So it’s not surprising that cultural comparison, although repetitive, became the focal point of most of the dates I went on.
My first date in Paris revolved around the differences between Paris and Austin, but it was wonderful. I had only been in the city a few days, but I managed to find my way on the metro system without any help from the internet, so I was feeling pretty accomplished. I ended up near the Luxembourg gardens at sundown, winding my way around tourists and children begging for gelato from street vendors outside the park’s beautiful gates. Then I began the march up the long, steep Rue Soufflot, lined with restaurants and bustling with people, until I found myself staring up at the Pantheon- a neoclassical building functioning as a distinguished mausoleum for famous French men and women, and absolutely beautiful at sunset. When I found my date, waiting patiently among the dwindling crowd of tourists, we did “la bise,” the quick kiss on either cheek that accompanies every Parisian greeting, my first time to do so. Since he seemed nice and non-murdery, I walked with him to the picturesque Rue Mouftard, and sat at a bustling cafe terrace on the square. We ordered one glass of wine each, and sat for hours talking while a couple of young musicians played covers for a crowd. We argued about French stereotypes versus Texan stereotypes; he made fun of me for not knowing anything about wine, and I made fun of him for having horrible taste in music. We ended the night by walking along the Seine by the Cathedral Notre Dame, which was crowded with people watching rollerskating street performers and enjoying the breeze from the river. I remember thinking I was on the most cliché Parisian date ever, and I felt thrilled to be.
Eventually, cafe terrace outings and walks along the Seine turned into get togethers at tiny but cool Parisian apartments. For the first time since arriving in France, I found myself in rooms full of people speaking only French, with minimal concessions to me as the lone anglophone. Sometimes when I obviously had no idea what the hell was going on, some kind person would pity me and speak English. Bless them. On one occasion, I wound up at a party consisting solely of the rugby team of another university in Paris, which for the most part went exactly as you think it would: a room full of boys getting drunk off cheap alcohol and making fun of each other. I couldn’t communicate well with them and they couldn’t communicate well with me, so the most wonderful moment of the night began when two of them started singing Disney songs in French. They sang the French lyrics to me, and I sang the English lyrics back. We all ended up on the floor laughing, feeling like we made some progress despite the language barrier.
Aside from the boys themselves, one general observation I made note of quickly after arriving in Paris was the rampant amount of PDA. Walking through Paris’s beautiful parks in the summertime, my eyes weren’t drawn to the historic monuments and the majesty of their sculpted marble forms, but to the couples about to do the nasty on their sculpted marble steps. Public affection – nay, public sexual activity – is unbridled and ubiquitous. One night I was laying out on the Champ de Mars, gazing up at the Eiffel Tower sparkling at sundown, when my date suddenly started making out with me; the classic tale of tongue-meets-uvula. I stopped him, surprised at my bashfulness, but nonetheless uncomfortable. “That’s a bit too much,” I told him. “We’re in public.”
He waved his hand around in a stereotypically French manner, gesturing at the other couples lounging across the long field. “No one cares, everyone is doing it.” I glanced around and noticed he was right; couples young and old were locked in various stages of embrace, unconcerned with their very public setting. I slowly began to feel more comfortable, and even started to have fun. However, later on when his hand crept up my dress and he remarked “Oh, you are wearing underwear!” I slapped him. You can take the girl out of the South…
You can take the girl out of the South…
Although I had a great time using Tinder- I met some good people, went on amazing dates, and saw breathtaking parts of the city which I might not have found without a local’s help – I deleted the app after a month. Even though dating in Paris is fun and exciting, I realized I could have just as much fun without a random hot guy leading me down the Quai de la Seine. Maybe later if I feel differently I’ll revisit the idea of dating and dating apps, but right now I’m happy experiencing Paris on my own.