Relocating to a foreign country is a truly enriching experience. It may foster your personal development and boost your career. Yet, living abroad, even in such an expat-friendly environment as Amsterdam, can prove stressful. Dating and relationships are one particular area of your life that often requires some major adjustment. In fact, many expats I have come across in the Netherlands and elsewhere have gone through a lot of doubt and confusion.
Many social habits and traditions you take for granted are suddenly challenged when you find yourself face to face with another culture. Notice how much personal space Australians need compared to the Japanese, who are more accustomed to crowding.
Try invading the perceived personal territory of an Australian or Canadian: chances are he/she will step back to re-establish a more “appropriate” distance. Unsurprisingly, many of the questions I receive as a dating expert concern cultural differences: “How do I flirt with Dutch men?” or “How long should I wait before calling a German girl I just met.”
The emphasis most readers put on cultural variations is revelatory. It shows how difficult it is to accept the fact that we are, quite essentially, biological animals. This will sound spectacularly unromantic: regardless of our cultural background we all belong to the same species of hairless primates. Hence, a lot of our mating preferences and courtship signals are inborn and universal.
A cross-cultural study conducted in 37 cultures [Sex differences in human mate preferences: Evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 12: 1-49. Buss, D. M. (1994)] revealed that men prefer physical features suggesting youth and health. Women on the other hand are more attracted to mates with status and resources. Now you know why Heidi Klum and Flavio Briatore dated for a while. It’s evolution at its finest: women tend to look for a relationship while men are more inclined to recreational sex. This, in turn, explains why men around the world are more likely than females to initiate sex (Regan and Atkins, 2007). So, there are some truly striking cross cultural similarities when it comes to sexual preferences and behaviours. Prolonged eye-contact between a man and a woman is unequivocally interpreted as a courtship signal anywhere in the world.
Dating outside your cultural sphere: easy or intimidating?
When dating, as in all other aspect of our existence, reality is a matter of perception: someone will see the glass as half-full while another will tell you it’s half-empty. And yes, they’re both right. Ultimately, our mental representation of the world orients our actions and decisions. In that sense, by setting the conditions for a self-fulfilling prophecy, we keep convincing ourselves that we are absolutely right to believe what we believe.
Granted, this sounds a bit philosophical, so let me give you a concrete example. I coached a Dutch client last Saturday. As we walked through the sunny streets of Amsterdam we greeted two pretty strangers who smiled back at us. I stopped and turned to him: "Let’s go back and have a drink with them." I had barely finished my sentence...
"But that’s impossible. We haven’t even talked to them…"
Despite the 'impossibility' of it in the Dutch client's view, we were sitting with them at the terrace of a café only minutes later.
Though this took place in his own country, my client suddenly realised that, like many other Dutchmen, he had somehow been conditioned to believe it was inappropriate and unrealistic to chat up girls in the street. You too, as an expat starting from scratch in a new environment, will have to get out of your comfort zone and challenge your beliefs.
The true boundaries are often in your head: limiting beliefs, myths, self-perception issues and insecurities are the only things that hold you back. I’m not saying that cultural differences account for nothing but they are definitely overrated. It’s convenient to blame it on the local dating etiquette.
In fact, the true seducer and the temptress, from Mata Hari and Casanova to Debbie Harry and Serge Gainsbourg all have one thing in common: they transgressed every rule and social convention in order to address the most primal and instinctive part of us. Living abroad is an incredible opportunity to re-discover and reinvent yourself. You have been given a blank page make the best out of it and feel free to colour outside the lines.
Ask the expert
Jean-Baptiste Trannoy is now available to answer your questions on dating, flirting and relatiohships via our Ask the Expert section under the 'Relationships' category in the Expatica country relevant to you.
Jean-Baptiste Trannoy is a French dating-lifestyle coach. He coaches single expats of various ages and nationalities through one-on-one workshops, masterclasses and seminars via his company blusherseduction.com
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