I’ve got a little treat since you’ve all been so patiently waiting for my newest post. And that treat is…a Guest Post.
The author of this guest post is Sarah Sigal. Sarah lives in London where she is a writer, director and researcher. She is currently working on her first book on writing and collaborative theatre. She enjoys good European wine but misses Chicago-style pizza and New York bagels.
So now, without further ado here are:
‘5 Tips for Intercultural Dating’
I’ve been invited to guest-blog by Mr. D to talk about cross-cultural dating, which is very exciting as I’m a big fan of the Tao of Indifference. But first, a wee bit about myself. I’m a straight, single American woman and I’ve lived in London for eight years. In that time, I’ve dated, encountered and befriended men from a number of different countries, and I’ve had the privilege of listening to the tales of friends from various countries reflect on their own cross-cultural dating experiences. If you are an American living abroad, or living in the US but dating internationally, some thoughts.
1. Be open and curious. Just not too curious.
In some ways, I feel as if I’ve only just gotten my head around dating the English. I’ve spent years gathering information on their romantic habits, like Jane Goodall, watching and taking notes in the jungle. In general, they’re reserved, taciturn, private people. And skittish—if you move too suddenly, they might run away. (Or perhaps lumber away. I think gorillas lumber.) I’d like to think I’ve perfected the art of toning down my ‘Americanness’; I try to let it peek out enough so that I retain some semblance of the exotic, some whiff of fresh-faced, corn-fed, straight-talking Midwestern Americana. I also try my best to mask what is often perceived as loud, crass and obnoxious, but sometimes it’s hard to get the balance right. So, be open and willing to meet new people and learn about their culture and the country they’re from, but remember not to frighten the gorillas.
2. Speak softly, but carry a big stick. (So to speak.)
In the words of Robert Frost, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’ It’s important to embrace cultural differences and thus allow for issues of, say, miscommunication in this global world of ours, but it’s also important for everyone to respect each other’s boundaries. Lately, I’ve been trying Tinder. (Mr. D writes about Tinder here.) I recently agreed to a date with an Italian. I’d never been out with an Italian before, so I had to recalibrate your anthropological expectations. I’m still a Jane Goodall of sorts, but instead of the English gorilla, picture an Italian panda: furry, needy, clingy and doesn’t know how procreate.
The panda offered to buy a bottle of wine. I hesitated because I thought, do I want to commit to a whole bottle? But it seemed rude to say no, and I thought, maybe it’s an Italian thing to start with a bottle instead of a glass. The panda then proceeded to do everything I thought Italian men were known for: sitting very close, staring intensely into my eyes, asking me to tell him my innermost thoughts. I was already very uncomfortable and tried to be polite, but he was persistent. I thought to myself, is this a cultural thing? Am I just being a prudish American? At various points in the night, the panda tried various ways of kissing me aggressively, such as shoving me against a wall and suddenly grabbing me by the back of the neck. He tells me that what I’m secretly looking for is a man who will be passionate and take me out of myself. I’d gone from thinking he must be demonstrating quintessential Italian behavior to wondering if I’d stepped into a Fellini film. I decided to put cultural tolerance to one side and give him a lecture on the concept of ‘no means no’.
3. Listen, but try not to judge.
I used to live with a guy from Thailand who was living in London for a year to do his Masters. His Thai fiancée was living in Paris studying for her Masters. The plan was that at the end of their respective years abroad, they would go back to Thailand and marry. The fiancée, however, had other ideas. It wasn’t long before she found someone else in Paris and broke off the engagement. My housemate came to me in a panic, asking me, as a Western woman, why this had happened, as if I was an expert on the whims of obstreperous ladies. He explained that he’d called her parents to complain and still she wouldn’t be reined in. Confused, I asked why he would speak to her parents to resolve the issue and not the young woman herself. Puzzled, he explained to me that this was the way of things in Thai families. The parents controlled the daughter. I gently suggested to him that his former fiancée might possibly be adopting Western mores and that maybe it was time to speak to her directly. He seemed surprised. Speak to her? he asked me. I hinted that maybe with him being in London and her being in Paris and the parents being in Bangkok, direct communication was best. (He followed my advice but alas, it was too late. She had already run off with a Mexican.)
4. If you are confused, seek advice from other natives.
5. When in Rome…
I have an American friend who had been living in Scotland off and on for a couple years. She had found a tightly-knit friend group comprised of Scots and there was a guy in that group that she (as they say in Scotland) ‘fancied’.
There had been a few close brushes and they spent a good deal of time together. She was worried about ruining the friendship and treading on territory where she wasn’t welcome. She fretted and pined and over-analyzed, as we American women have a tendency to do. Should she make a move? Should she wait? He wasn’t being clear about whether he was interested or not (few British men are) and so she asked her Scottish friends for advice. ‘Aye—just get pissed ‘an shag ‘im!’ was the reply. They didn’t know if he liked her or not, but they felt the only way to find out was to just go for it, and in a way that Americans might not normally approach such a delicate situation. So one night, they’re all in a club dancing (all very drunk) and my friend suggests to her Scotsman that maybe they should go home together. He agreed and years later, I’m happy to report that they’re still together.