Nov 13th, 2016, 11:20 AM

International Love: Girls Explain How They Find Their Men

By Sarah Sidi
Image credit: Sarah Sidi
Women from across the globe demistify the romantic norms of their cultures.

Five smart and beautiful AUP female students kindly agreed to share with us how they flirt in their countries of origin to help any outsider understand the norms. From Syrian extreme traditionalism, to Peruvian masochism, all the way to German coldness, Swedish feminism and Tunisian materialism, we both explore and dismantle the clichés—all while acknowledging that generalizations are just that. 

Maysan Nasser—From Syria

Senior; majoring in Philosophy and minoring in Theater.

Image credit: Sarah Sidi

What’s flirting like in Syria for young people? 
It is very gendered. Girls do not initiate. In smaller towns, they use the term “talking to someone” to mean “dating someone” because most of it happens on the phone, nothing very personal. The initiation of the guy would usually be through looking at her, making sure she notices him and then possibly being friends with someone she knows to get her number. Flirting can also happen through indirect signs. When my cousin liked a girl, he showed it to her by putting on loud music and driving by her house every day. It’s always very distant and subtle because you do not want to be judged.

What would you qualify of a romantic thing to do or, to the contrary, a total turn-off?
A romantic gesture would be to buy something for someone and leave it somewhere she could pick up. It’s very materialistic.
A turn-off would be someone who’s too blatantly interested in you; that threatens your reputation and becomes a burden on you having to explain to your family why this person is calling your home phone. Family has a huge influence on who you can date.

As religion has, I imagine?
Yes! Even in terms of the sect you pertain to. If he’s Sunnite and she’s Shiite, that’s not an option, they can't be together. In the Middle East, when if you only think about the idea of getting into a relationship with someone, you have to consider the person’s reputation, religion and social and economic status. Even things you don’t think will influence it, do. My mother always says that the reason she didn’t have a lot of suitors was because her sister got divorced—and that it was a complete dishonor to the family.

Do you have a personal experience you’d like to share?
Having moved a lot and having grown up in an international environment I really wasn’t very afflicted by this mentality and by these dynamics. Funnily enough, the only time I encountered an issue was in Paris, where I met a Syrian guy who was 30 years old. After a month of dating and not having kissed even once, he told me: “I think my parents would like you, but you’ll have to remove your tattoos and your piercing, dye your hair black again and stop smoking and drinking.” I realized he was thinking of marriage from day one.

Even though my family is quite liberal, a cousin told me I was in this limbo between the East and the West, and if I don’t pick sides, I will never get married. If I wanted to marry an Arab man, I’d have to be less liberal, or decide I’ll never be with an Arab man and just drift off to the West. I find that this dichotomy that they've created is ridiculous.

You chose the West, didn’t you?
I chose to refuse that idea altogether, because it’s just made up. You can be both this and that at the same time! If you’re just living under a set of cultural norms you haven’t even questioned before integrating them into yourself, I think you’re not going into a relationship of the sake of love or simply on proper ground to getting to know someone else, you’re just picking someone who would fit an image!

Something I always heard in my family is, “You need to marry someone who will maintain your current lifestyle.” That completely disregards the fact that I could build that for myself; it restrains your choice to a certain social and economic class. There are lots of proverbs that echo this principle, such as, “When poverty comes in from the window, love runs from the door.” I find it to be frustrating, to say the least. If I fall in love with someone who’s not Arab, not Muslim, not from my sect, who’s not rich enough to my family’s standard, that would be catastrophic, I would have to lose my family.

Are you afraid?
I’m afraid of how much I am going throughout the world unconsciously avoiding certain relationships just because I know that eventually it would lead to anything or it would persist at a high cost. I have a lot of gay friends in the Middle East who suffer this constant schizophrenia of loving someone but at the same time fearing to lose their families and even their jobs. It’s very limiting.

Do you feel that the culture is evolving, or it it truly stuck at this point?
I think it’s evolving, slowly. The influence of technology and of the globalization that we live in help progress. And, of course, there are courageous people who defy social norms. For example, my aunt  married a Jewish man. Her family stopped speaking to her for five years, but they are very happy married and have their own family.

Dhoha Jerbi – From Tunisia

Sophomore at AUP, majoring in Psychology and double minoring in Gender Studies and International Affairs.

Image credit: Sarah Sidi

What can you tell me about flirting in Tunisia; is it that different from the Western world?
It is extremely different. I had a very negative experience in my country when it came to flirting. The majority of Tunisian men lack sex education and, frankly, proper manners, so they confuse sexual harassment with flirting. It’s extremely problematic and I know it stems from a policy of ignorance and a lack of respect for personal spaces. For instance, it is completely normal for a complete stranger to approach you by touching your hand, or even other parts of your body. I am not saying that every guy in Tunisia behaves this way, but it is an overarching idea that it is OK to pursue a woman on the street ,or that catcalling is completely normal. It’s also problematic that the girls are passive too; they do not defend themselves, thinking that’s just a part of their routine. It’s a vicious cycle.

What would you say would be something romantic, or, on the contrary, a complete turn-off?
A big turn-off in Tunisian culture for women would be when a guy is not faithful—when he’s “a player”—because we appreciate monogamous relationships. It’s the only thing I can think of right now. A complete turn-off for me specifically would be man-handling, which is when a guy feels free to grab me or drag me around.

Something romantic would be when a guy take care of you financially, such as when he pays for your meal or offers you a gift. It’s very materialistic, and in my culture, it’s considered romance. Even in our wedding traditions, marriage can be a very lengthy process with different steps, and in each step the groom would have to give some kind of material possession to the bride. For me, personally, I think a romantic gesture would be when someone pays attention to you; it doesn’t have to be materialistic at all, it can just be, you know, the thought.

Is it possible for a woman to initiate the flirting? Would you do it in Tunisia?
I personally would go for it, but in Tunisia it is very frowned upon. Like I said, women are expected to be passive and men are expected to be the ones that pursue women. It would be a turn-off for a man when a woman is in the leading position, or when she’s making any decisions concerning the relationship.  

Lilly Schreiter – From Germany

Sophomore at AUP, double majoring in PPE and Art History.

Image credit: Sarah Sidi

How do you pick people up in Germany when you're a woman? 
Of course it depends of the person but, from my personal experience and looking at my friends, I noticed that it’s usually the girls who start talking to boys. Nowadays, flirting is not just a real-life moment, it’s a lot of texting; and yes, I feel like it’s mostly my female friends who start the virtual conversations with men. And then, if interested, males will start to call back and begin to enter into the flirting process. 

Interesting! Very surprising. What would you say would be a romantic gesture?
There’s nothing in particular, except usual things such as taking the person to a drink or to diner, depending on how close you are already. It starts more with a drink; diner is a big step, as opposed to France’s tendency to take apéritifs with the other, even at the outset of the relationship. We can also go to nice spots such as parks, especially in Munich or Dusseldorf.

And what’s your definition of a failed flirt?
Personally, I hate when it gets romantic too quickly. It’s pressuring and it feels completely artificial. I think feelings and attraction has to develop over time and in a natural fashion, without all this romantic fuss. Maybe guys think that they have to do that from watching too many movies, I don’t know, but at the end it just does not work out.  

Are there any differences you noticed between France and Germany concerning the way people date?
I feel like the French men start to talk to you on the street much more openly! So often they approach you and begin a discussion without any embarrassment! In Germany, you don’t do that. You just have guys walking in the street who just say “Hey, you’re pretty” and that’s it.

Do you have a personal experience you'd like to share?
One time, I was seeing a guy, and every single time something happened that was commonly perceived as romantic, he would point it out. Like every time it rained he would say, “oh, so romantic!” It may be because of my “German coldness,” but it made me angry, it felt so weird!

Also, generally, I find it much easier to flirt in English than in German, because in German (not to conform to the stereotypes that we are serious and angry all the time), words sound more meaningful and therefore more frightening. English sounds way more relaxed. That’s why flirting in Germany may be more difficult.

Camila Craig – From Peru

Freshman at AUP

Image credit: Sarah Sidi

Can you tell me how women flirt in Peru?
In Peru, there is still a very strong macho culture, so boys struggle to get the girls. It’s the stereotypical “the boys talk to the girls first,” and there’s a lot of chivalry; boys really try to be gentlemen, and if they ask you for a date, it’s usually a really big deal. It’s not like in the States where people go on dates all the time; it’s considered to be really serious. You can flirt and everything, but you don’t ask the person on a date unless you are very interested in her. If the girl accepts the date and you hang out for a while, you still have to ask her if she wants to be your girlfriend. It has to be officially stated, out loud.  

What’s romantic for Peruvians?
In Peru, couples always celebrate their month anniversary. They go on a fancy dinner, the boy does something cute like a surprise, they give each other gifts. Every single month, it’s a thing!

And what's a turn-off? 
When the guy is not attentive to you. If he’s not a gentleman enough, you can simply sass him out, like, “Oh, you’re not being nice to me, then bye!”.

It’s quite contradictory though, because, on the one hand, it’s a very macho culture, but, on the other hand, there’s a huge respect for the women, who have the last word!
I guess it’s more of a seduction game, so that the girl usually feels like she’s in control—but she actually falls into the norms determined by her society, such as “the guy has to ask me out first, I am not supposed to do it because that goes against the culture!” It’s like a game.

Do you have a personal experience you'd like to share?
A few years ago, I was going out with this guy, and one time we went to the movies. After, I told my Peruvian friend, “It was really nice, we split the check, each one paid for their own things, etc,” and she was just shocked! She told me that he was supposed to pay for me! I am pretty liberal for Peruvian standards and I find it ok, we can pay for our own stuff! But for most of the Peruvians, relationships are still very stigmatized. If you date a Latino guy, he’ll treat you like a queen—just saying! 

Elin Pettersson – From Sweden

Junior at AUP, majoring in PPE and minoring in Global Communications

Image credit: Sarah Sidi

What's flirting like in Sweden?
Women are the ones who, most likely, will have to initiate. You are the strong independent woman who’s got to go up to the guy who is probably too shy to talk to you—and pretty scared of the total feminism of Swedish women.  

What’s considered especially romantic in your country?
I find that if your boyfriend sends you a morning text or asks you if you got home safe at night, he’s being romantic. To me, small things that show you actually care are more romantic than big dinners in a fancy restaurant. It falls in line with Swedish culture; it’s toned down in a respectful way, nothing extravagant.

And what would a turn-off be in Sweden?
When the guy is too on, too cocky. I mean, he can be confident, but always in a humble way. If he knows he can get you and thinks he’s in power, that just triggers my inner Swedish diva. The girls always have the control.

Wow! Let’s move to Sweden, girls! Do you want to share any personal experiences?
Actually, what I've just talked about actually happened to me once! I went to a club called KB in Ma;mö, the third-largest city in Sweden, and the big brother of a guy who used to go to my school didn’t recognize me and played the whole game. It was nice, but he went over the line when he said, “hey, I live just over there, we could just have a walk there, I want to show you!” He did it so awkwardly that I just responded, “You know what, keep looking!” And honestly, I don’t think he went home with anybody that night.

Did you feel a huge difference coming to France?
Oh yeah yeah yeah! Definitely! Here, if you walk on the street, the guy can pull down the window, whistle and say “Hey beautiful!” That would never happen in Sweden. You can think you have the most gorgeous outfit, but nobody’s going to say anything to you, out of respect for personal spaces! It brings a bigger sexual tension in a way, because it becomes more gendered and it’s about appreciation of your appearance. But in Sweden, close friendship between boys and girls without any sexual tension is very common! In Paris it seems way more difficult. The “someone” has another intention, usually.