ColumnAn American ex-pat on dating in Europe.
It’s the gulf between the man who says “Mon chéri” and he who says “Hey, baby.” It’s the difference between the guy who orders a Jack Daniels with Coca-Cola and he who instead prefers a nice Bordeaux. It’s the net effect of a man in pants that fit versus he who still wears the same baggy-cut jeans that he did when a student in high school.
Sure, the aforementioned examples might be riffing on all the hyper-reductive stereotypes about the American versus European man, but between the lines – the subtext, if you will – there are certain truths well worth mining if you’re an American looking to meet a European. As a woman who bleeds red, white, and blue but who’s living abroad across the pond, this year has been something of a crash course. In this week’s Sex by Numbers, Old World collides with New. Here are six signposts for snagging that beautiful boy with the accent.
Your Americanness is an asset. You are a product of your culture’s grooming, and nothing can shake that. There’s nothing sillier than regarding your stars-and-stripes badge as a dating game stopgap. It’s an irreducible asset that you can harness and highlight to your advantage. Playing up the fact that you were a bonafide Texas cheerleader in high school carries with it a mystique that favorably positions you ahead of the cigarette-sucking angst of your European-born female counterparts. Yes, we’re speaking in generalities here, but the point is not to try to hide who you are.
They expect you to be ignorant. Many Europeans harbor all manner of anti-American prejudices, but perhaps the most cloying is the belief by some that Stateside girls are ignorant of the cultural and historical influences that shape the world. (The U.S. is, after all, nothing but one fat, happy Walmartized Disneyland – right?) Recent case in point: “So, I just got back from the Gustav Klimt retrospective – oh, wait – do you know who he is? He’s an artist.” In Europe, my intelligence is second-guessed on a near-daily basis. The fun is in upending these expectations. (Personally, I prefer Klimt’s “Golden Phase.”) It’s your defiance of small-minded stereotypes that sharpens your edge.
They assume you’re a fake. You’ll hear it in some form countless times: “Americans are too friendly, they’re too nice, they’re phonies, they’re false, they love useless small talk but don’t really mean it, they’re as superficial as they come.” First, accept the other’s perception with a grain of salt and without taking it personally. Remember that for all of the superficial, saccharine, smiling Americans there are rude, smug, arrogant Europeans in equal measure, who are itching to make themselves and their opinions heard. C’est la vie! In your own way, know that intolerance is but a manifestation of fear of the unknown and keep in mind that their version of the world is just as – but no more – valid than your own.
Yes, Americans are inclined to bend over backwards and sometimes are too eager to please, but it’s not your job to apologize for it. Instead, it’s your prerogative to exploit your friendly nature as a device to charm – it works. A smart woman goes only where she is appreciated, not merely tolerated.
Dress the part. I can’t help but shudder at the Stateside girls on holiday in Europe who know no better than to hit the sidewalks looking like they stepped straight out of a strip mall (horrors). Men here possess a birth-right appreciation for a woman with a sense of true style.
Strive for a look that is simple (I can’t stress this enough), classy (this has nothing to do with money), and understated (as in steer clear of pop culture). Clasping a strand of pearls around your neck doesn’t equate with being a member of the Republican party; pearls are for the everyday. Remember the rule of halves: If you opt for a body-hugging blouse, pair it with loose trousers or if you slip into stockings and a miniskirt, couple it with a tasteful top. Use a blow dryer and wear your hair soft and long. Keep your makeup minimal with a focus on the lips and eyes, while following this suggestion: Look at old photographs taken when you were a little girl. What was your natural coloration? This is the cosmetic pallet to which you should adhere as an adult. Au natural, darlings. In short, think Carla Bruni, not Katy Perry.
Sex is sex. Europeans embrace nudity as an integrated aspect of everyday life – they bare their bodies without a second thought at the beach, in the co-ed saunas, and certainly in the bedroom. It might sound unkind, but the general impression of American men – one I’ve only come to understand after moving abroad this year – is that they’re largely terrified of showing off their bodies but trigger-happy to share their genitals. Conversely (and, yes, I realize I’m painting broad-brushed strokes here), European dudes like to preen, strut, and physically demonstrate that they are men. These guys are proud of their physiques and strength and, at first blush, might even seem vain. But it’s actually a deep-rooted, thoroughgoing commitment to remaining connected to their physical selves – trés sexy.
It’s important to keep in mind that this is an “affair culture.” Sure, the men here love having girlfriends and wives, but they’re equally comfortable taking lovers. It’s true the world over, but maybe more so in Europe than America: Sometimes, a kiss is just a kiss; sex is just sex; and savoir faire is a modus operandi.
Sex By Numbers is an ongoing look into the emotional and sexual lives of the modern day woman. Follow Abigail Wick weekly here for insight and inspiration as she explores the “sex” of women and the terrain they must travel.