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It is indeed complicated to explain the ambiguous, complicated and often opaque process by which French men and women pair off.

“It just kind of happens”In the words of 36-year-old Laurence Bagot, a French journalist who spent a year at Harvard and admits she is as mystified by American dating habits as the Americans are by the French ones: “In France, getting together just kind of happens.” In a nutshell, everyone kind of seems to think that getting together in France just kind of happens! And the funny thing is that even when people are together, you rarely know what their relationship is.

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Here in America we have a tendency to idealize the French, thinking of them as elegant beings who dress well, eat well, and have attained the ideal work–life balance.

Ask any French person, and they’ll find this idea laughable and maybe even a little worrying—France has a myriad of its own problems, and this French “ideal” is largely drawn from affluent Parisians and not necessarily representative of the whole country.

They needed everything to be explicit” — in terms of whether or not an outing was officially a date.

Americans are thus obliged to officially ask each other out, and the first date is often for a drink and to make small talk.

My boys in turn were astonished: No one in France had ever brought the matter up—and they weren’t about to tell! Her children, slightly older, had “dated” and “gone steady” and done all those American things my Franco-American duo didn’t seem to be doing—or, in any case, talk about doing.

Rest assured, I told her, they live in France, are half-French and as far as social relations are concerned, they’ve glommed on to their Gallic side.

While British men are renowned for their aloof nature, and the Americans are juggling girlfriends, French men can come across as extremely keen.

Expect next-day contact and a date within the first 48 hours.

Essentially, an entire chapter of confusing mind games will be completely bypassed. French men phone regularly, and there should be one call for every day that he doesn’t see you.

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