Date like a Local

Published 2012-10-25 13:29:55

Love in multiple languages © Yahia LOUKKAL - FotoliaFinding love is tricky business. It can be made even more difficult by moving abroad. Cross cultural courtship is a minefield in social etiquette. The protocols and practices of dating vary considerably from country to country, and from person to person. Relationships may be fleeting, or life-long with dating treated as recreational or a serious precursor to engagement and marriage. If you can figure out how to date and with whom, international love can be at your fingertips. 

In our new series of "____ Like a Local", we provide tips to avoid the worst faux pas and an overview of standards around the world. (For more tips on fitting in, read Eat Like A Local, Talk Like a Local, Tip Like a Local, Stay Healthy like a Local and Greet Like A Local).


Below we provide a guide of established standards and practices. However, different countries within the regions and different people may interpret or ignore these rules entirely. While this guide should help you avoid embarrassment, what is most important in any situation is to try to be respectful and courteous. Good intentions can take care of all sorts of "bad manners".


As with many places, Africa is a large continent with widely varying dating cultures. This is not always recognized by outsiders, but remembering this fact will serve expats well. Here are some general guidelines for Africa in general, and several highlighted countries.

    General Rules
  • Many societies within Africa are not as progressive as the Western world in regards to women's rights. This is often tied in with the Islamic religion. This does not necessarily mean that women are not revered. Be sensitive to this dynamic.
  • African men tend to be chivalrous. If you are an expat man or women, recognize that this would be expected.
  • Many Africans have expatriated or have a close friend or family member that has. This shared experience can help you bond.
  • Poverty and civil wars plague many countries in Africa, giving many people in Africa a more balanced perspective on life. They value comforts others may take for granted.
  • Many Africans speak 2 (or more) languages. Learning the local language can help you connect.
  • Be ready to get involved in big fun family life as families here tend to be large and exuberant. Extended family is almost as important as the nuclear family. Family is of utmost important to many Africans.

As an Arab country, most people follow Islamic law which strongly dictates dating culture. Egyptian men hod the power and lead the relationship. Short-term relationships and flings are usually taboo for women. Men, however, can have multiple partners. Dating in Egypt is predominantly done under family supervision, usually in a public area.

Ethiopia is a composite of more than 70 ethnic groups. Arranged marriages are most common in Ethiopia with a minimal amount of dating. In some cases, elders are sent to the girl's family on behalf of the boy's family or courtship after a friendly meeting between boy and girl such as at a market place or holiday is allowed. Marriages link families in Ethiopia since the dowry paid by the family of the bride is often significant financially.

Most Moroccans practice Sunni Islam and are of Arab and Berber ethnic background. Cross cultural couples often need to adjust to the Islamic standards. Some men or women will not date a man or women who does not conform to Islamic roles. There may also be substantial family pressure for interreligious dating.

Men in Nigeria generally adore take care of their ladies, and expect the same in return. They often demand the dominate role and respond well to be taken care of during the dating experience. Women are equally strong-willed with powerful personalities. Both men and women have a reputation for having high libidos. If unsatisfied, they may find satisfaction elsewhere.

South Africa
Africa's most international country also offers complicated dating rituals. The history of apartheid still defines many people's relationships with each other and can make people highly suspicious of foreigners, including other Africans.


Asia is a mix of traditional approaches coming to terms with a modern world. Parents and extended families are often involved in their children's relationships from advice to arranged marriages.

    General Rules:
  • Big cities understandably have the best dating scenes for expats. Expats often congregate in expat areas making dating other foreigners extremely common. However, people who interact with the local population can find fulfilling relationships with locals and a better connection to the place in which they live.
  • Good education means a good future so be prepared for questions about your education, financial status and business opportunities.
  • Age and health are not treated as private matters and are a frequent topic of conversation.
  • Though divorce is becoming more common, ladies who have been divorced or widowed may be viewed as lesser than their single counterparts.
  • Casual dating is not common across all Asian cultures. Many people only date to find a spouse. Be clear about your intentions.
  • Most Asian cultures require a man to pay for dinners, shows, and other expenses. Sharing the cost is becoming more popular in some areas, but do not expect it.
  • Study dates can be far more common than going out to parties or dinner.
  • Feelings are often expressed indirectly. Be aware of subtle cues.
  • Asian women have been relentlessly stereotyped and it is important to realize that not all people act the same way. Be open to people as individuals.
  • Online dating sites are growing in popularity. Some cater to the local population, while others cater to foreigners. Of course, many of these are aimed at western men and Asian women.

Patterns of dating are gradually changing in China. As China seeks to advance in the global market, the people have had to change and leave by some traditions. Traditionally, Chinese-style flirtatiousness is known as sajiao and consists of coquettish feminine voice and girlish protestations. Zhaogu refers to the practice of Chinese women expecting to be taken care of by men. They may wish to be spoiled (guan) with gifts.

Some reports have stated that modern Chinese women with an advanced education have had trouble balancing education and relationships, as well as worrying is their academic credentials may scare away more traditional Chinese men. Professional single women often have a clear idea of what they are looking for with exacting standards of how much they should make, what age, and social standing. More and more people choose not to get married, have children, or to postpone these events.

Another element to be dealth with is simply the lack of privacy. In a country of 1.3 billion, where children often live their parents until marriage, it can be extremely difficult for a couple to find time alone. One way around this dilemma is for couples to study together. Study dates are common among the school aged set. For the slightly older crowd, matchmaking events are common.

November 11th is an unusual unofficial holiday in China known as "Singles's Day". Encouraged by worried parents, singles are encouraged to make an extra effort to find a partner. Some people reach out actively looking for dates, while others look at the day more cynically. Singles's Day offers a way to demonstrate your stance on love and marriage.

Dating in India is heavily influenced by the custom of arranged marriages. This allows for little socializing before marriage with couples chosen from the same caste, religion and economic status. However, the institution of arranged marriage is undergoing rapid change. So-called "love marriages" are becoming more accepted as the country itself continues to modernize. During the interval before marriage, whether it's an arranged or love marriage, private detectives may be hired to check up on a prospective bride or groom.

Dating websites are becoming popular in India. Even the subculture of transsexuals and eunuchs (hijras or alis) have begun using Internet dating in some states in India.

While the Japanese have many things in common with other Asian cultures, there are significant differences. Japanese tend to be more independent, dislike discussing personal matters right off, and may be uninterested in financial or social status. It is also less common for children to continue to live with their parents after their early 20s. Be aware that there are far more Japanese women dating foreign men than Japanese men dating women. First dates are often informal, consisting of going out for a coffee. It is still typical for the gentleman to make the first move. Japanese culture thrives on "cute" so don't be aware this may affect dress, language, and attitude. Want to make the first move but your Japanese is at a beginner level? Try "Rock, paper, scissors" (Janken). This game is well-known and can help you get talking.

The traditional practice of Omiai may still be engaged in. It refers to the practice of parents hiring a matchmaker. The matchmaker provides resumes and pictures of potential mates, hopefully leading to a formal meeting with parents and matchmaker attending. If the couple has a few dates, they're often pressured by the matchmaker and parents to decide whether or not to marry.

Singapore's largest dating service, Social Development Unit (or SDU), is actually a government-run dating system. Originally it only promoted marriages among university graduate singles, but as that was controversial, it now simply promotes meaningful relationships.

Vietnamese do not ordinarily date without the goal of marriage. Let your intentions be known, and acknowledge that a meet-the-parents usually occurs early in the process. Gaining a parent's permission to date their daughter is a traditional and respectful way of getting a Vietnamese girl to date you. Initiating a date as a woman is often frowned upon in Vietnamese culture as a sign of an "easy" woman.

A traditional first date should consist of something low-key and not too intimate, like a walk in a park or cup of coffee. Early dates should operate on the platonic level, even within a group of mutual friends. Avoid initiating physical contact because premarital affection may be looked down on.


General Rules
Australians are known for being easy going, and this often extends to the dating world. Most teens go out in large groups and don't formally pair off until they are 18 or 19 years old. "Dating" is often regarded as a new American custom with people often informally meeting as friends until finally labeling themselves boyfriend/girlfriend. Standards are often ignored. Girls may ask out boys and pay for the date, online dating is common, and casual sex is not heavily stigmatized. One-night stands or "hooking up" is the norm. However, note that while asking for a date by text message is permissible, breaking up by text is not.


    General Rules:
  • People often meet at dinner parties or from personal introductions by friends and family. Online dating and seeking out people to date is becoming more well known, but many people prefer to let it happen organically.
  • Dating is often a group event. People within a group of friends may pair up, and even after they are "official" they may still primarily go out with a group.
  • People generally date one person at a time.
  • Europeans tend to be relaxed about dating and do not subscribe to a certain standard of "rules".
  • Nudity is a part of day to day life whether it be at the beach, the spa, the gym or just about anywhere else.
  • People general dress more formally than people in places like the United states. Jeans, sneakers, or ripped clothing may be unacceptable for a first date.
  • European men and women don't typically define themselves by their careers. Focus conversation on interests.

In the U.K., one estimate is that 15 million people are single, and half of these are seeking a long-term relationship; three-quarters of them have not been in a relationship for more than 18 months. Dating usually refers to the tentative exploratory part of a relationship. If two people are going out together, it may mean their relationship has advanced to a relatively long-standing relationship. Despite many people being together for years, it is not uncommon for young couples to put off marriage until into their thirties, or indefinitely.

Meeting on a dating website, speed dating, and email correspondence are fairly common. It is estimated that almost five million Britons (out of 62 million) have visited a dating website in the past twelve months. The most common places to meet a mate are still probably in the workplace, through friends, or in a pub.

Formerly strict dating criteria have loosened along with the growing international and fast-paced lifestyle of the UK. Men may ask women out or women may ask men out. Either may pay for the bill, or they may split it. First dates can be the classic dinner and a movie, or any variation you can think of. British social customs (or stereotypes) of politeness, failure to speak out, reluctance to engage in physical affection can be charming, or annoying depending on your perspective.

France is known as a country of romance, but it can be a difficult place for new expats to find love. French singles generally spend time in groups as friends. People to get to know each other slowly, and allow romance to develop over time. Courtship is a relaxed affair with few hard and fast rules. Relationships often go unlabelled so things can develop more organically.

The French have a reputation of being aloof or uninterested. True or not, the signs that someone is interested in you romantically can be quite subtle. Watch for lingering eye contact and an open and friendly manner. Perhaps because of these minute signals, French men can be very persistent and French women often play hard to get.

Despite their reputation as serious and unromantic, many locals and expats date and find love in Germany. On the contrary, some German men are surprisingly sensitive (even to the point of insecurity). Both sex's tend to be up front about their expectations, and disappointments.

The dating scene is generally quite traditional, with a man expected to asking a woman out and paying for the date. This does not mean there isn't a fair bit of dating around. People frequently have many short-term relationships during the twenties and beyond, and Germans marry at an older age than in places like the USA. It is also not uncommon for people to never marry and live in long term partnerships. People often meet through friends, or through membership in voluntary associations. Germans are often engaged in a number of clubs and groups. When meeting for a date, the cliché of German punctuality rings true. Fashionably late is just not in good taste.

Italians have a reputation as great dressers, lovers, and believers in romance. Appreciation for a women's looks can be heard in the frequent catcalls and whistles, and most couples dream of the elaborate wedding with many children to follow. However, it's not all romance for the Italians. Women are often concerned with finding a financially stable mate. Dating is usually lengthy, with the purpose of marrying. The culture is generally conservative and flings or one-night stands may be looked down upon.

Family is of vital importance to most Italians. An Italian man's mother approval is vital for an ongoing relationship. Daters should expect exuberant praise and the vocal admissions of love and admiration. Chivalry is highly respected with small acts like opening the door for the lady and the man paying for the bill are highly valued.

Online dating has slowly caught on and more and more people are using relationship sites.

Dating in Russia does not differ that much from western countries, but some things that are uniquely Russian. People are often standoffish and can appear cold - especially to strangers - but this is merely a cultural difference. Introducing yourself and allow the relationship to develop slowly. Display characteristics like confidence, intelligence, and humor to attract others. Russians are usually not in favor of public displays of affection. They do, however, tend to have a very small personal space and often stand closer together than other people.

Women's day (March 8 ) is a very important day in Russia. It honors the special lady in your life with flowers, gifts, or a night out.

Middle East

    General Rules:
  • Religion dictates much of the Middle Eastern social scene. Familiarize yourself with the religious norms of your area. For example, the Muslim religion forbids the consumption of alcohol and pork.
  • Family and honor are of tantamount importance. Take care to avoid insult to a person, their reputation, or their family.
  • Sex without marriage is generally considered unacceptable.
  • Many Middle Easterners have spent time abroad, or are familiar with Western traditions. If you're unsure about their expectations, ask.

Dating is rare in Afghanistan. Schools separate boys and girls and opportunities to meet are rare. Most marriages are arranged by parents.

Since 1979, the state has become a religious autocracy which imposes Islamic edicts on matters such as dating. Thus- dating is illegal and this law is enforced by the police. Teenagers are kept sperate until they are of marrying age. Even if they could meet, dress code restrictions can be a barrier towards attracting mates.

The Iranian government promotes marriage with online courses, courtship classes where students can earn a diploma, or through matchmaking and arranged marriages. Clerics also run officially sanctioned internet dating agency with strict rules. Prospective couples can meet under strict supervision, at a center or in a brief encounter on their own. After this meeting, they may choose to marry or agree to never see each other again. Once you are married, adultery can be punished by death.

Marriages and courtship in Pakistan are influenced by traditional cultural practices and Muslim norms and manners. Illegitimate relationships before marriage are considered a social taboo and social interaction between unmarried men and women is encouraged at a modest and healthy level. Couples are usually wedded through either an arranged marriage or love marriage. Love marriages are those in which the individuals have chosen a partner whom they like by their own choice prior to marriage, and usually occur with the consent of parents and family. Arranged marriages on the other hand are marriages which are set and agreed by the families or guardians of the two individuals where the couple may not have met before. In either cases and in consistency with traditional marital practices, individuals who marry are persuaded to meet and talk to each other for some time before considering marrying so that they can check their compatibility.

Although UAE is an Islamic country, it is very tolerant western culture. It is actually majority expats - at close to 90 percent. It is extremely difficult for a foreigner to date a local, but dating among expats is common. There are many single events and "Ladies Nights". Online dating is also popular.

North America

    General Rules:
  • Traditionally, men ask the women out and pay for the date.
  • There is an emphasis on finding "the One". Many believe you have one true love.
  • People are often defined by what they do, so talk about careers and day to day worklife is common.
  • Some people follow elaborate rules (like don't have sex with someone til the third date). These are often advertised as ways to find not just a long-term relationship but a spouse.
  • It is acceptable for people to meet potential mates through friends and family, out at bars or restaurants, or on online dating sites.

"Finding the one" is the goal of many people in Mexico. Raised on telenovelas, the ideal pursuit is to woo through praise and presents and then live happily ever after.

Family values are extremely strong and it is important to be friendly with a person's family, as well as the individual. Gender roles are very distinct in Mexican households. Women are taught to be submissive while the men are the dominant figures in the home. Conversely, men are supposed to live up to an idea of machismo (masculinity). Single woman over 30 are frequently viewed as sad, lonely person.

Mexican flirtation - love it or hate it - often consists of catcalls and whistling. Courtships usually marked by flowers and gifts to the lady. And verbal exchanges are often teasing, passionate, and loud. Public displays of affection are not uncommon, although much of the countries adherence to Catholicism may make these advances unwelcome, especially for the older generation. In theory, Mexicans wait until becoming engaged or even a wedding before they become sexually active. If a woman is to become pregnant before marriage, it is not uncommon for the couple to rush to get married before giving birth.

Foreigners are generally well received. Strangers are generally friendly and will approach outsiders. Mexican woman may be attracted to foreign men, but many are wary. There is a long history of foreign men dating Mexican women, than leaving them without marrying them.

Americans are frequently on the hunt for love. This theme dominates books, tv, movies, and conversation. Dating, by mutual consent of two single people, is the norm. Many American begin dating as teens, with a classic American love story of high school sweethearts marrying and living happily ever after. The country's large size, different immigrant backgrounds, and large number of individual philosophies make it difficult to generalize.

Traditionally, men ask the women out and pay for the date. This is no longer a standard and while some people consider adhering to these rules good manners, other feel they are old fashioned. While most people meet at a young age through friends, family, school, clubs, or church, older couples often meet at bars or online. No-strings-attached flings or one night stands, often called "hooking up" and involving anything from kissing to sex, is not uncommon. This kind of behavior is less desirable outside of big cities or in middle America. It is also not unusual for a person to date several people at once before getting serious with one.

Complicated rules dictate social norms and it up to each individual how closely they follow these rules, or if they are completely disregarded. A man shouldn't assume that a woman will want to have any physical contact with him unless she has made clear signs. A chaste kiss on the lips may be expected at the end of a first date, while the third date may indicate it is "ok" to have sex. Again - these rules may be strictly adhered to, another set of rules may be in place, or there may be no rules at all. It all depends on the individual. Usually (but not always) how quickly the parties contact each other after the date is an indication of how much they enjoyed the date or each other.

South America

    General Rules:
  • A majority of the population in Latin America identifies as Catholic, so the religious customs and beliefs often guide the cultural norms. There are also large population of indigenous people in South America with their own specific traditions and expectations regarding dating and marriage.
  • At the same time, flirtations are a constant occurrence. Many people flirt with everyone and are comfortable with their sexuality. There can also be a high degree of infidelity.
  • Latin America largely subscribes to traditional gender roles in which men provide for the family, and women care for children and the household. It is customary when dating for a man to hold open the door, pay for the date, and be generally chivalrous or detallista (attentive to the details).
  • In general, dating is more formal than in North American or Europe. The majority of people are looking for a long-term relationship resulting in marriage. Women are pressured to delay sexual relations until after marriage.
  • Families often meet a potential suitor. Mothers have a place at the center of the family and a mother's approval can make - or break- a relationship.
  • Inter-racial or cross-cultural relationships can also be quite taboo depending on the person and social circle.
  • When of an appropriate age, usually over 15, most people date in large groups. They will go out together to clubs, restaurants, or parties and be heard to sperate and talk to one-on-one. Wednesday and Thursday nights frequently offer ladies night at discotecasat, making them a great place to meet new people. Friday nights are popular, with Saturday nights the busiest nights of the week.
  • Because many people live at home and sexual relations are not possible there, love motels are widely available throughout the country.

Brazil is very liberal sexually and encounters can be taken very lightly. However, children in Brazil may not move out until they are married, making a romantic relationship subject to the family's approval. relationships usually start as a friendship that slowly develops into an exclusive arrangement. It is generally not acceptable to date several people at once.

Colombians are outgoing and fun loving, but it can be hard to connect - especially for a foreigner. Many women are opening to chatting and will even offer their number, but never actually commit to a date. If they do commit, beware that it is not uncommon for your date to simply not show up. Many expats recommend having a back up plan for just such an occasion. Another obstacle is that many people live at home into adulthood, and girls are frequently given a curfew. Respect the curfew as angering the family may mean an end to the relationship.

Expats in Love....or Trying to Find Love Abroad

More stories of cross-cultural love can be found in the expat blogs listed on BlogExpat Directory.
If you are looking for places to go, check out the entertainment section in EasyExpat's city guides.

Looking for friends, or maybe something more? Connect with other expats and locals on the forumValentines Around the World can also help you familiarize yourself with traditions in your area.

We realize this article does not fully address same-sex relationships and are looking to address this in a later article. Have a post you'd like to share? Leave a link in the comments!



Author: EasyExpat
Community Manager

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