Updated: Sep 16
Many women follow their hearts abroad, some joining their relocated partners, others chasing their dreams and searching for love along the way, some bumping into it despite their best plans.
In Issue 4 of our GIRLGI magazine we talked to single women dating overseas. One of those women was Lily Heiss, a Canadian freelance writer based in Paris since 2000 and author of memoir, Je T’Aime, Me Neither.
After getting dumped by her Parisian boyfriend, Lily was left wondering if je t’aime really existed. Instead of crying into her glass of wine, she decided to heal her bruised ego and quash her romantic doubts with a carefree summer fling . . . une aventure. Rather than guide her into the arms of a perfect summer amoureux, the sexy streets of Paris led her from one impossible candidate to another: disappearing foxy Frenchmen, unavailable nomadic heartthrobs, overly-mysterious world travelers and mistress-hunting married men.
Where do you call home?
For most of my years in Paris I’ve lived in Montmartre, the village like district around Sacre Coeur. The district is very picture perfect Paris, with its winding cobbled streets and vistas over the city, however, the parts packed with throngs of tourists can be tiring. The area has grown on me and I’ve discovered many of its secrets. The zone just to the south called SoPi is quite hip at the moment so there are some fun places to go out nearby and plenty of cool shops.
Why did you move to Paris?
At the start, I was drawn to Paris by an intense love of the city and not of a particular Parisian, however, the romantic capital of the world has been adamantly trying to prove its reputation to me since moving here. I do have to admit, being a single girl in a foreign country was certainly exciting, nevertheless, it can be a completely different ballgame, akin to a North American quarterback being tossed onto a European ‘football’ pitch. The game might have the same name, but the rules are far from the same.
Do we need a B1 in French or is the international language of looove enough to date in Paris?
It’s true that the first attraction is often sparked by a mutual chemistry without exchanging a word, nonetheless, it can be difficult to get to or even through a first date if you can’t communicate. Having a good grasp of the local language does help, though there are still many linguistic land mines to navigate. For example, in French the words for lower, kiss and have sex are virtually the same... and thus if mispronounced can easily lead to varying degrees of embarrassment or trouble! Even if you surpass these minor initial hurdles it can be hard to fully express feelings in another language and some things will always be lost in translation, a difficult issue to overcome even after many years in your foreign home.
Language aside, dating and courting norms can vary greatly from country to country. It’s been frequently observed that French, Spanish or Italian men are much more forward than their Anglophone adversaries. When discussing this with a French male friend, he explained that if he found a woman attractive then certainly other men did as well, therefore one had to act quickly before missing his chance.
This doesn’t mean les femmes, mujeres or donne from those countries are as forward as their male counterparts. Au contraire. They may give those sultry come hither looks, yet they expect their ocular targets to be the ones stepping up to the plate. A flirtatious foreign fille might miss her mark. This forwardness is not only saved for the first encounter.
What is it like to be a single straight girl, foreign and dating in Paris?
Confusing! From my experience with the French, they tend to move much faster than I’m used to, leading to some uncomfortable end of the night decisions of, ‘should I stay or should I go’? It’s not as simple as when in Rome, do as the Romans; I’ve gone wrong following either approach. Not going home with one Francais bruised his ego so badly he never called me again whereas on another occasion it left le garcon dying to see me. Staying over on the first date has led to both disappointment and some of the most passionate nights of my life.
Other forms of forwardness can be manifested in situations that many foreign femmes would find inappropriate. Since being in Paris, I’ve had to dodge undesired feisty flirtations from bosses, indecent
proposals by married men and unfair pursuits by amnesiac boyfriends (of other girls!), all
unacceptable actions where I come from.
That isn’t to say that all Frenchmen are like this, however, sexual harassment and having a mistress aren’t necessarily frowned upon here... so expect cultural clashes depending on where in the world you are from.
Have you dated fellow foreigners while living in Paris?
Yes but I have tragically found this not to be the antidote to the contradictions of dating in Paris: having had dating mishaps with brash Brits, slippery Scots, mischievous Mexicans, coldhearted Canadians and cheapskate Catalans. Their nationality didn’t designate them with these titles, these types can be found across the globe. Sadly, I may have just had a knack for attracting them. The good natured expats definitely outweigh this lecherous list, but they might have a different set of complications: they might not be stationed in your city for long or they might have their eyes set on meeting a lovely local instead.
What prompted you to write a book and share your experiences with dating in Paris?
My experiences were so crazy that my initial motivation was to share them with other women. I think it’s common for women to regret some of our actions when we get caught of up in romantic moments. Instead of dwelling on them too much, we need to learn from them (not always easy to do!). It’s an odd, transitional time for women - especially when it comes to dating. The ‘rules’ are changing and it isn’t always easy to make romantic decisions. Add cultural differences into the mix and this makes it even more challenging!
I think travel gives women courage and independence. I think most women who travel don’t return home the same person, that is if they return home at all!
How has dating foreigners changed your perspectives on sex, dating and love?
As expats, we are stuck between our own cultural references and those of our adoptive home. The French take quite a different approach to seduction and move a lot quicker than North Americans normally do. To a certain degree, it’s sink or swim and I’ve flowed with the current of some seductions I mightn’t have if I’d known the person a bit better before. That said, I’ve also had some amazing life experiences while just living in the moment without getting bogged down with what’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ What’s important is to follow your instincts and be comfortable with your actions.
So where are we to find love?
Don’t look for love... it will find you. Despite the challenges with dating in another culture, I’ve also had numerous friends find their local or foreign love while living abroad.
Monsieur Cupid really does strike at the right moment. Up your chances by getting out there. Pick up a book, find a beautiful cafe, read and enjoy the moment and be open to have a conversation if someone asks you 'qu'est-ce que tu lis?'. 'what are you reading?'
What books should we be reading in a little Parisian cafe?
Long Ago In France: The Years In Dijon by M.F.K. Fisher (1929). Perhaps one of the first food writers, this is a fascinating account of her three years in Dijon, France.
Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald (1932). Considered a semi-autobiographical account of her life and marriage to F. Scott Fitzgerald. The book is set in Paris and the French Riviera and vividly brings to life the era and the vision of this vibrant woman.
The Best Women's Travel Writing edited by Lavinia Spalding. An annual collection of wonderful tales from around the world by talented and adventurous women!
This article first appeared in Issue 4 of GirlGI.
Lily Heiss has been writing about Paris, romance, travel, events, art and culture for over 8 years and published her first book, a novelized memoir on her romantic misadventures, Je T’Aime, Me Neither, in 2013. Her second book, Je T’Aime… Maybe?, was released in November 2016.