Taking those first steps… Flirting across cultures

Gregre couple BLOG(3)  (Version française ici, merci)

I can see you smiling whilst reading this title, dear readers! We all know that every love story has its charming (and often very funny) moments. Especially when one of the individuals concerned doesn’t understand that they’re being courted.
I can’t resist humming for you a German song about a French girl “Aurélie so klappt das nie”  (2004, Wir sind Helden).
Here are some bits in English:

(…) But Aurélie never gets it
Every night she wonders
when someone will fall in love with her.

Aurélie, it’s never going to work like that
You expect far too much
The Germans are such subtle flirts!

Aurélie, the men here really like you.
Look down the street – They’re all looking up at you
But you don’t notice because they ‘re not whistling
and if you whistle at them they run away
You gotta learn that around here, less is more. (…)

For my book project Bilingual Families: Bringing Up Children between Cultures (learn more here), I couldn’t resist asking parents about how they first met and how they managed the first few steps in their initial courtship. There were some lovely stories, particularly those which provided insight into the different cultural expectations and habits of each person.

Let’s look at Elise and Manuel’s story first, then Anne and Shaief’s, before turning finally to Suay and James.

Elise and Manuel: a French-Colombian couple

Elise “I remember how we met, here in Oxford, in a school for students who wanted to improve their English. I was astonished because you came closer, and closer, and closer – I had to step back, you were almost stuck on me. I kept stepping back while you kept talking and coming closer.” (she laughs)

Manuel “Yes, that’s right but totally normal for me. In Colombia, when we talk to women we get closer, there’s a natural proximity.”

 Anne and Shaief: Anne is from the USA (Arizona) and Shaief is from Trinidad and Tobago.

Shaief “During my studies in the United States I had the impression that American Girls were very loud and very forward. Some of them even asked me to be their boyfriend, which shocked me, because in Trinidad and Tobago it’s the man who defines the speed of a relationship.”

Anne “We met at university, where we were both resident assistants and student representatives. Gregre couple BLOG(2)I was attracted by his otherness, his voice, the way he talked and that he was a musician, which meant a lot to me. We spent a lot of time together, I liked him, but he seemed to be more serious, more mature, not interested in relationships. So I never asked him…
And then he went to Graduate School in Barston and I had to go to New York to do a teaching programme. We knew that we were fairly close, four hours away, which isn’t really that much when you’re living in the States. We went to visit each other. I remember my first visit in Barston. I thought that I was really flirting with him and at the dinner he confided to me how terrible it was that he couldn’t just be friends with American women because they all just wanted to go out with him…”

(he lifts his eyes and smiles) “Honestly I didn’t realize, I thought I was talking to a friend…”

“And I was so disappointed and sad…(…)”

“But in the end I came to visit you in New York and we had three fantastic days during which time you seduced me bit by bit.”

 Suay and James, they are a Thai-English couple.

Gregre couple BLOG1James “We both worked in a hotel in Bangkok, Suay was on reception and I was in charge of tour groups and their trips around Thailand. I spoke a bit of Thai, but what really motivated me to learn more was that I wanted to engage with you and to talk to you in your native tongue. At the beginning we just spoke in English.”

Suay “Encouraged by a friend who also worked at the hotel, you invited me out one evening, but for some reason I had plans so I couldn’t go.”

“But by that point I already knew that Thai women, famously possessive, are very direct in their communication. If they want you, they wanna tell you. (…) A directness which is probably related to the cultural expectation of marriage… Anyway, my experience of Thai women, which isn’t massive, told me that they are extremely direct and do not mess around.”

“That’s right, if I didn’t want to go out with you, I would have told you straight out.”

“In England I might stop here, but I knew that I wouldn’t get a brush off. And I tried again the next day and we went out together that same night…”

Thanks to Elise and Manuel, Anne and Shaeif, Suay and James
for their time, their kindness and their support.
More to come soon on OxFrogNews!


One thought on “Taking those first steps… Flirting across cultures

  1. Oh Goodness,love these stories as they really reminded me of my own encounters with cross-cultural flirts. In particular for the first steps it really is challenging when you are not quite sure yet about the “other” culture AND the person that you are trying to chat up. But it certainly makes for great stories, am looking forward to more on that!


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