Single woman in Paris

Feb 4th, 2006, 04:01 PM
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Single woman in Paris

I am a single woman in her late 30s going to Paris for the first time in May. I already have my flight and hotel (11th arrondisement) and I will be there for 10 days. I can speak some French and can read and write it a little better. I'm concerned about getting along with Parisians. I understand that trying to speak French and being polite go a long way, but I worry about what is "done" and "not done." If I initiate a conversation with someone in a cafe or wine-bar, would I be considered a)rude, b) insane, c) sexually available? If I compliment someone on their child's behavior or appearance, would that be considered rude? Is it rude to compliment someone's dog and ask to pet it, or to compliment another woman's appearance and ask where she bought something she is wearing? If a man says something friendly or innocuous to me at a bar and I respond, will he think I am sexually available, while I'm just looking for someone to chat with over a drink? As a rule, I don't worry about being lonely during the daytime; I have plenty of things to see, do or eat to keep me occupied. I'm mostly worried about the nighttime. I don't want to sit in my hotel room and watch TV, but I don't want to go out to a club or bar, strike up a conversation with someone and have them assume that a) I'm sexually easy b)I'm an easy mark for a con or c)I must be weird since I don't understand the rules of social interaction in Paris. So what can single folk do in Paris when they go out at night,andthey're not particularly interested in a one-night stand? How can I fit in more with Parisians or at least have them react favorably to me? And oh yeah, what are regular Parisian women (not the wealthy or the very young fashionistas) going to be wearing this Spring! I know this is a lot, but if anyone can help me out, I'd appreciate it!
luluredux is offline  
Feb 4th, 2006, 04:25 PM
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I think about the only thing that Europeans often find "rude" about us Americans is our lack of day-to-day formalities (like saying hello to every shop owner and goodbye when you leave), our generally higher noise level and at times, arrogance when it's displayed.

With those things in check, you can easily strike up a conversation with virtually anyone by asking for assistance, either with some translation, directions or other question.

My husband and I were there in September, and we enjoyed after-hours cafes/wine bars, where we were often the only foreigners, and found that after a few drinks, all of us were relaxed enough not to be staring at each other like girls and boys at their first dance. We ended up going back several nights in a row and talking with the same people each night and making new friends.

Happy travels,

jules4je7 is offline  
Feb 4th, 2006, 04:29 PM
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I can't help with most of your questions. I'll leave that to the experts. But I can tell you that nothing makes a Parisian's face light up like complimenting their children and their dogs!
Guy18 is offline  
Feb 4th, 2006, 04:45 PM
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Hi lu,

I'm your age and have been to Paris a bunch of times by myself. Most recent time was Jan. last year. I always stay in the sixth so I pretty much go out in that neighborhood at night. Usually I'll go for a late dinner and walk around til I find a cool bar or music venue. There are a ton of Jazz clubs in Paris. You can feel totally ok going to a Jazz club or an Irish Bar(there is always other americans and brits at irish pubs) by yourself without feeling weird or that you look easy. One night last year I saw Beach Boys cover band entirely in French at some club. Another night I saw an american musician who played pretty much all Jimmy Buffet.Place was packed with Parisians. It was alot of fun.I find most people are freindly in Paris if you don't try too hard. I make friends with the bartender and then they will introduce you to their friends at the bar or club and then your not alone anymore. In the 6th over by Rue de Buci(I think) there are some cool places. have a great trip and lot's of fun, Solo travel is completly liberating.
laartista is offline  
Feb 4th, 2006, 05:17 PM
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If you are a young single female in Paris and you initiate a conversation with a man, or respond in a friendly way to a man, this will be interpreted to mean that you are potentially sexually available. France is a Latin country, and in Latin countries the sexes don't normally interact socially with each other unless some sexual ulterior motive is afoot, and so any interaction in which you engage is assumed to have sexual implications.

This does not mean that you incur any obligation by talking to men, nor does it mean that you are at any risk or in any danger, but it does mean that French men will assume that any friendliness on your part leaves open at least the potential for sex, and they will behave in consequence. Do not be surprised or disappointed if what seems like innocent friendliness on the part of a man turns out to be a ploy to get you into bed.

These rules are in contrast to Anglo-Saxon and Germanic countries, where it is possible to form platonic relationships with the opposite sex. It is a continuing source of frustration for women from non-Latin countries such as the UK or the US who rapidly discover that even the most innocent conversation may be interpreted as a sexual invitation.

None of this is intended as a moral judgement. That's just the way the culture works, so be ready for it.
AnthonyGA is offline  
Feb 4th, 2006, 05:57 PM
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You might think of going on a night time tour such as a Fat Tire Bike Tour. You will be interacting with other tourists rather than locals but you won't be lonely.
amwosu is offline  
Feb 4th, 2006, 05:59 PM
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I lived in France for 5 years and traveled there recently. I"m amazed at how many young people now comfortably speak English. They have traveled more than their parents and are much more open to foreigners. Its usually more productive to ask a younger person directions than an older one. However, American's often are overly friendly, sort of like puppies. Best to be a bit reserved. Short compliments about dogs and kids are probably always welcome.
As for French men...well enjoy. They are a lot of fun to flirt with, and as long as its all kept on the level of light hearted fun, perfectly OK. Just make it clear from the beginning that you are only interested in the game of flirting and not in going to bed with them.
kleroux is offline  
Feb 4th, 2006, 07:22 PM
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Do you live in a major city at home?

I don't think Paris has some secret magic formula for these type of interactions. Most everything you asked about will not be that different from a similar situation elsewhere in the world IMO.

How do you handle things like this at home for your intensions to be correctly understood?
suze is offline  
Feb 5th, 2006, 02:36 AM
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There are huge cultural differences in the way interactions between strangers of opposite sexes take place. The more conservative the society, the more it tends to associate any interaction between men and women with sex (and the more it tends to restrict such interactions in consequence).

As I've said, in France, both sexes assume that any interaction between them has a sexual component, and some individuals won't interact with the opposite sex except for potentially sexual purposes. This is in contrast to countries like the UK or the United States or some other Germanic cultures, in which striking up a conversation with someone of the opposite sex is not immediately presumed to be a sexual approach.

It's important to be aware of these differences when travelling. It's important for a woman to understand the implications so that she can avoid being pestered, and it's important for a man to understand the implications so he can understand the type of reception he gets if he talks to a woman. Some people like a society in which every male-female interaction is treated as a sexual flirtation; others miss the ability to form purely platonic relationships in addition to sexual ones.

All of these rules govern interactions between strangers. Since you meet essentially strangers when travelling, the rules are quite important. The rules between good friends are determined more by personality than cultural norms, but people travelling to a foreign country are unlikely to find themselves interacting with good friends, and will mostly communicate with strangers.

In the case of Americans, they tend to interpret the harmless flirtations of the French as sexual harassment, unless they are fairly liberal in attitude themselves. The French are deeply bewildered by American hang-ups concerning sex and the Byzantine rules concerning "sexual harassment" enforced in American-owned companies. So you have a situation in which the attitude towards sex is perhaps healthier overall in France and more liberal, but at the same time a bit old-fashioned in that the French find it difficult to conceive of a non-sexual relationship between a man and woman.
AnthonyGA is offline  
Feb 5th, 2006, 04:57 AM
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These have all been very helpful. To suze: I grew up 40 minutes outside of NYC, went there often as a young adult to meet friends and relatives and never had a problem asking people for help, etc. I now live in a medium-sized city in the South (hint: we're famous for music) and most people here are very friendly, easy to talk to, and the men don't assume that a woman they chat with at the bar will go to bed with them. A guy asks me a question or makes a comment about the news or sports on TV, I answer, and we chat pleasantly and casually. When I'm ready to go, I say Goodbye, he nods, and that's it. So I'm used to negotiating these kinds of circumstances well. I was concerned about how this type of behavior would fly in Paris because I don't assume that everything will be the same there as it is in the United States. AnthonyGA, you seem to confirm what I thought and I have mixed feelings about that. I'm glad to know how things work, but I've always been the type of woman whose best friends were men, who got along better with men than women, and the idea that just being pleasant or willing to chat in a bar with a man could be taken as the assumption of sexual interest depresses me a little. But it's not going to keep me from enjoying Paris!
I also want to thank everyone else who answered. Thanks for the great advice.
luluredux is offline  
Feb 5th, 2006, 06:01 AM
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Do not be surprised or disappointed if what seems like innocent friendliness on the part of a man turns out to be a ploy to get you into bed.

Rats! AnthonyGA has spilled the beans again.
degas is offline  
Feb 5th, 2006, 06:14 AM
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...what are regular Parisian women ...going to be wearing this Spring!

I just returned from Paris on Friday. Believe it or not, you will want to carry a large WHITE purse. All the "new arrivals" displays were showing white accessories.
JeanneB is offline  
Feb 5th, 2006, 07:48 AM
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AnthonyGA is apparently a renowned sociologist in this field of men and women's relationships, and yet he hasn't yet written a post that doesn't just serve to try alienate and antagonize, and often misinform with his over-simplified generalizations.

Luluredux -- the fact is, if you are female and interact with a man in a bar, alone, just like in the States, the man is going to assume at least that he has a CHANCE.

That doesn't mean that he's going home with you that night, and that in your previously practiced French that you can't explain that you are not available. You will be in PARIS for crying out loud, not a roadside bar in Wyoming where you'd be subjected to a barrage of truckers who haven't seen women in a long time.

Another option might be to try and hook up with female travelers (we met one Fodorite here from the board who was traveling alone) for dinner and drinks one night. I walked "home" from Ile St. Louis all the way back to the 7th and had a lovely time, felt safe, and even stopped for a drink alone in a bar just to get a feel for the neighborhood, and it all went just fine.

I think once you get there that you'll find it's not the hornets nest of a potential loss of your dignity that Anthony's trying to imply.

Happy travels.


jules4je7 is offline  
Feb 5th, 2006, 07:51 AM
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My information is based on a great many testimonials from UK, US, and French women, my own observation of the type of interactions that take place, and a considerable literature that discusses the subject.

There are clear cultural differences between one country and another. You can be forewarned and forearmed, or you can find out the hard way. I'm only trying to save someone a bit of misunderstanding and frustration.
AnthonyGA is offline  
Feb 5th, 2006, 10:02 AM
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I'm only wondering why you would say that the more conservative the country, the more likely a woman in a bar alone would indicate that she was somehow available...when I wouldn't rate France as a "conservative" country or society by any stretch as compared to those elsewhere. I would think based on that statement, you'd think she would be quite safe in a bar in France.

I don't think someone needs to walk through life with the expectation that all is rainbows & butterflies, and that everyone will treat you as an equal or a friend. But I also don't believe that women should curtail everything they do based on her gender.

Sure, there are places that are more dangerous than others, but a cafe/bar in the heart of Paris isn't what I would define as the hotbed for danger, no pun intended. LOL

Anthony -- I would almost think I was talking to Patrick with the tone you take of "cautionary advisor to fear or at least be very careful of everything that you might run into."

jules4je7 is offline  
Feb 5th, 2006, 10:34 AM
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Sorry but I don't buy it. Of course I believe there are cultural differences but I also think a smart woman can pick up on the nuances in various situations. And control the message she is putting out. Regardless of the country or the langugage.

That said I just don't picture myself in Paris asking to pet people's dogs -lol.

Also I am curious the age of AnthonyGA because his advise and observations sound terribly old fashioned and school bookish to me. And yes I have been to Paris.
suze is offline  
Feb 5th, 2006, 11:13 AM
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I travel alone (mostly for business, but I generally tack some pleasure along in there somewhere) in the U.S. and Europe, and basically find that the principles underlying social interactions are the same (and luluredux will have no trouble negotiating them), but the manner in which they're manifest is a bit different. Men in Italy and France are more likely to flirt casually than their counterparts in the U.S. and northern Europe, and to some extent it actually seems to be expected: if they don't do it it's somehow a bit insulting, as if the woman were just too hideous to contemplate.

But these men's understanding of just exactly how likely they are or aren't to "get lucky" is entirely on the mark, and even participating in the flirting conversation will not result in misunderstanding or hurt feelings.

And just in case anybody was wondering, striking up casual conversation in the U.S. and northern Europe gives exactly the same message. The only difference is that the men aren't as good at flirting.
Therese is offline  
Feb 5th, 2006, 12:03 PM
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thank you. well said Therese!!
suze is offline  
Feb 5th, 2006, 02:23 PM
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AnthonyGA is spot on in his observations about interaction between the sexes in Paris and France.

It may sound like an exaggeration but it fits in 100% with my experiences of life in France. (I lived there continuously for 6 and a half years, plus another 2 years on and off. I now live in Belgium).

When I arrived in France my outlook was very much like luluredux's, having more male friends than female and being a bit of a tomboy.

I discovered time after time that - on the whole - what I thought were innocent, friendly exchanges were being interpreted very differently by the French men I was speaking to. To the extent that I was, on more than one occasion, insulted and accused of being a tease when the men in question discovered I was not chatting with them because I wanted to go home with them at the end of the evening.

I found it unpleasant and upsetting, and eventually quizzed my female French friends on how to react. They basically told me that women in France don't, on the whole, chat with unknown French men in bars or clubs unless they are looking for a sexual relationship.

This shocked me as it seemed like such a backwards sort of attitude, but it's the truth. Even striking up a conversation with a male friend-of-a-friend at a party led to the guy in question assuming all sorts of things about my motives.
hanl is offline  
Feb 5th, 2006, 04:18 PM
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hanl, i appreciate a post with first hand experience, for adding to the conversation.
suze is offline  

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