My boyfriend and I speak almost exclusively in French. While his English is decent enough to have a conversation and understand 90% of what he hears, we default to French because that’s the language we got to know each other in. So while I always answer the phone with “hey” or “hi” and involuntarily speak to him in English when I’m tired or just got off the phone with someone in the U.S., 95% of our conversations, texts, and disagreements are in French. So if you want to see the pros and cons of dating someone in your second language, keep reading.
Cons of Dating in French
The first time me and Thomas went on a date I was a pretty horrible flirt. Trying to be funny or sarcastic was near impossible. While eventually, I learned how to be myself in another language there are still times when communication is impeded by the language barrier. Things I say tend to either sound childish or too harsh. Things that he says can come off as bored or condescending, when neither of us mean to be either.
2. Stupid fights
Going off of the communication thing, sometimes the language barrier can cause stupid fights. Over the summer when we were long distance Thomas called me when I was with a friend. I texted him saying I was at dinner and asked if I could call him back later. He simply responded, “non.” Obviously, the sass was uncalled for, but it took an hour conversation for him to realize I wasn’t just being dramatic/upset over nothing and for me to realize he wasn’t being insensitive because we finally came to the conclusion (after a exchanged few screenshots) that one of his texts saying “Oui, bien sûr *winky*” hadn’t delivered. If this disagreement had happened in English it would have been sorted out in minutes. This is just one example of how a little miscommunication can turn into something bigger just because of the communication issues.
3. Fighting against stereotypes
I had a lot of stereotypes about French men. Most of those stereotypes went away with time, but sometimes I find myself still needing to stop and let go of my clichés in certain situations. For example, I always thought French men were big flirts, so when Thomas says something really romantic to me I find myself wanting to roll my eyes because I think “you’re just saying that.” While I know he is being sincere, there are certain situations like that where I have to be careful not to let my previous judgments get in the way of our relationship.
4. Long distance
If you and your partner have different native tongues you probably were born in different countries, which will take you away from each other from time to time. I had only planned to be in France for seven months, so before me and Thomas were really serious I had booked a roundtrip ticket to spend the summer in Greece from May 10th until July 22nd where after I’d jet off to the U.S. until September 24th. For a couple that had only been dating for three months the idea of being apart for four and a half months just didn’t seem doable. We ended up making it work by me flying back to France for a week in June, him coming to Greece for two weeks in July, and then him coming to the U.S. for three weeks in August—which left us apart for only 3-5 weeks at a time. But, it was hard to be apart even then and definitely hurt the wallets.
Pros of Dating in French
1. Learn fast & learn slang
The first thing people ask me when they find out Thomas and I only speak French together is ask how good my French is. I definitely sound foreign when I speak, but I can understand and speak fluidly. It’s hard for people to understand me on the phone, I sometimes misunderstand things and have grammar mistakes de ouf. But, having Thomas definitely improves my French, because I get to hear someone my age show me correct phrasing and pronunciation and I get to learn a lot of slang.
2. Travel Together
The inverse of the problem of long distance is that we always have to travel to see each other. It’s definitely a pro that our weekends away can be to Venice or Madrid and that dinner dates almost always include a nice French red wine. And he’s equally happy to brag about visiting his girlfriend aux états-unis.
While sometimes the language barrier causes a lack of clear communication it also has its good side. I actually think we avoid fights sometimes because it’s really easy to just blame something annoying he does on the fact that it’s just because he’s French or because I’m American. He’s also hilarious when he speaks English to me sometimes. I keep a note in my phone of all of the funny things he says to me because I think they’re adorable. Here’s just a few of them:
“Follow your thinks”
Advice when I didn’t know what to do, basically telling me to follow my heart
“I’m actually die”
What he says when he gets hurt
“Welcome to America, bitchies”
Some of his first words arriving in the US for the first time.
“Shut the f*** off”
I let Thomas say this one for far too long just because I didn’t want to tell him it was actually “shut the f*** up,” but then when I finally told him he wasn’t saying it right he goes, “What? Shut the f*** on?”
I also keep Thomas laughing with all of my mistakes. I would list them, but they’re a little R-rated (if you’re confused you can look up the difference between the un baiser (n.) /baiser (v.) and un cou/un cul).
4. Makes our Relationship Stronger
Honestly to find someone who you like, who likes you back, and who you can spend a lot of time with without wanting to kill one another can sometimes seem impossible. The fact that Thomas and I have to work through extra struggles and learn about each other through the lens of a different language/culture means that we aren’t doing it because it’s easy. It also makes me feel like there really is no one else out there like him, since he is so different from all the guys I’ve known before.
Calliope Zarpas, writer and graphic designer, is a collector of foreign words and experiences. She loves trying traditional foods and drinks from all over the world (ask her about the “happy water” she had in a tiny Vietnamese village) and making friends despite language barriers. She blogs at www.ournotsosecret.com.