Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

How pushy exactly is too pushy? Who takes the initiative? To make matters even worse, what’s considered good practice in London might be unacceptable in France. Life can be difficult. It feels a bit like driving in the dark with only your clearance lights sometimes.

Let me take an example. A few years ago, Stefanie (NOT her real name), a lovely French trainee, came to work with us, in London. She was funny, cute and very bright. She was also very French and chain smoked. All the male colleagues of the office used to rush outside whenever she was having a cigarette. She started liking this English guy and, eventually, he took her on a date. She was obviously very excited about the whole thing. Except that, the following morning, she explained to me that he behaved like a perfect gentleman and didn’t even try to kiss her. He drove her home and even waited for her to open her entrance door to make sure that she was safe, but nothing else happened. How odd.

She was confused. So was I. As I have never dated a British guy, I couldn’t really offer any advice. So we did our research (how did we manage before Google?) and asked around. Apparently, some guys wait a bit before making a move. “Ok”, she said, “I can wait”.

And wait she did. 5 more dates down the road, nothing had happened. (This couldn’t happen in France). She didn’t know what to do. I suggested dating continental guys, because I (used to) find it a lot easier to know where to stand with them –better the devil you know…-. But she wanted to persevere. We had a quick brainstorm. At the time, I was trying to get my daughter into a local Catholic school and found out that I needed a priest reference. So I told her that, maybe, in this country, you need a priest reference before starting a relationship? We asked around but no, apparently it was not necessary. Some Church of England priests are even openly gay over here, and nobody has a problem with it, which I actually find great. Well, back to square one then: how does it work over here?

We tried to find other explanations. If he didn’t fancy her, why would he keep inviting her to nice restaurants? Stefanie, who was not a quitter, decided that he was simply too shy to make a move (maybe it was because of his boarding school education?) and, one evening, after two months of lovely but uneventful dates, she invited him to the pub. After a few drinks, she took him to a dark corner of a beautiful mews and tried to kiss him.
Fatal mistake. He didn’t respond well to her initiative (that’s actually an euphemism) and she felt very ashamed. So ashamed, in fact, that she cut her work placement short a couple of weeks later, after profusely apologising to the guy (she argued that she was drunk).
I bumped into my former English colleague approximately a year ago. He was still single and living with his dog. To this date, she doesn’t understand what has happened -but she moved on. As for me, I understand that I suck at the role of confidante, but I am still struggling to get what went wrong. Any advice/insights?
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London