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Though the modern idea of dating is still taboo in some parts of the world, many countries have rituals or traditions surrounding how couples meet and marry. Some of these customs have made their way to the United States, but many still remain foreign to us. America’s so good at adopting products from around the world if they work, whether that’s movies, fashion or technology.  One area where we haven’t really looked to the world at all is love.

Group dating is popular amongst European and Australian singles, partly because it’s a safe and nonjudgmental way to spend time together. On a group date, you and 30 of your friends might go to a movie or dinner together and pick up more people along the way.  Friends are part of it from the beginning right up to maTrriage. You’re getting validation from friends you trust that you and the man (or woman) will get along well together. Group dating also lowers the expectations as to what should go on and how the date should end.
Now, that’s not to say that European singles are generally shy about sex.   Sex is the European icebreaker. Here in the United States, you make small talk with someone. And while many American couples have the “let’s be exclusive” conversation at some point, their European counterparts simply assume they’re exclusive once they start spending time with someone in particular. Even though they’re more forward sexually, they have a more romantic approach about dating and relationships.
In Paris — often called the “city of love” — a lot of single women told me go through the big house party circuit, and often prefer being introduced through friends.   Romance also reigns supreme in Italy, where a ragazzo (boyfriend) and ragazza (girlfriend) might go for an evening stroll together, thereby participating in a romantic tradition known as la passeggiata. In other parts of Europe where the pool of eligible daters is a bit smaller, singles (in some cases, their families) might look to online dating sites for love. In the Czech Republic, out in a very rural village, a lot of people say they like online dating, because once you exhaust the candidates in that village, it’s tough.

The biggest difference between how Western and Eastern cultures approach dating and love is probably the individual versus collective mentality. In North American culture, intimacy is viewed as a personal construct where we get happiness from being with another person.  It’s more of a ‘couple’ dynamic. But in a collectivist culture, a person is only happy if his or her parents are happy, the siblings are happy, the religious leaders are happy… so, that type of framework goes into dating and influence in one’s choice of partner. And while historically, Indian couples have traditionally been paired via arranged marriages, love marriages (where individuals choose their own spouses) and “blends” (where adult children ask their parents to help arrange a marriage with a specific partner in mind) are becoming increasingly more common. Still, many Indian singles hold fast to the notion that, when it comes to marriage, family should be involved and that love is something that evolves and grows over time.

It has been viewed in India with arranged marriage traditions, women explained that, in America, they see your wedding day as an apex — a high.  You meet, you fall in love and you get married, but you might be setting yourself up for problems.   As soon as problems arise in the relationship, you start thinking about rekindling love.   IN India, they see their wedding ceremony as day one, and view love as something that is only possible through time, commitment and effort.
Both Indian and Chinese cultures traditionally use astrology to assess the suitability of a match based on the couple’s birth dates. However, as a result of the Chinese government’s “one-child policy,” the gender ratios there are skewed heavily — meaning that, there are 120 eligible bachelors for every 100 single females. Because of this, many Chinese men are now turning to online dating sites to find love, which allows them to screen potential matches according to such criteria as a woman’s astrological sign.

While some cultures strictly forbid public displays of affection, Latin Americans embrace PDA with gusto. In bar in Brazil it’s not uncommon to find nearly every couple kissing. The explanation given was that in America, you go out two, three, four times. Why don’t you just kiss somebody right away? Then you know everything about the relationship. How many bad dates could have been avoided with one kiss?  Usually, the man is expected to make the first move.   Sometimes a man,  that depending on his immediate environment, not only is he encouraged to introduce himself, he might even be teased or punished by his friends for not approaching a girl he finds attractive.

Some common Latin American pick-up lines might offend North American women (i.e., we should get together and you should make me dinner”), but “in countries that embrace masculinity, that is looked at as a man communicating exactly what he wants… his expectations.  But incorporating some machismo (an air of extreme male confidence) into their romantic approach could benefit more hesitant American men, but an important distinction could be drawn between being assertive and domineering: Any time you start putting pressure on a woman to do something you should be able to do for yourself, it can be domineering.

Still, there are some universal commonalities that hold true about courting, regardless of where you live. In general, everyone in the world wants the same thing. A family, partnership, economic success… it’s the same goal, but thousands and thousands of different paths can lead to achieving that goal.

Romance can unravel the intensely personal emotions of the heart is perhaps as old as the inception of humankind. As one of the emotions making way for courtship and sacredly meaningful bonds of matrimony; it has its own share of interesting practices; which vary intrinsically with region, place, their respective socio cultural set up and various phases of history.

Some of the curiously interesting romantic practices have their roots in the chivalrously significant Middle Ages, pastoral traditions characterizing the typical Petrarch a lover of the Renaissance and formally meaningful courtship of the Victorian Age.   The concept of courtship giving way to marriage found its origin in the Medieval Age marked by chivalry other than the cherished virtues of chastity, bravery and honor. All over Europe men courted women they were slated to marry; giving rise to the idea of arrangement in marriage.

With its insistence on the ideas of courage and chivalry, a typical knight like figure wooed the maiden he was supposed to marry with flowers and verses’, upholding the knight’s obliged chivalry and protection. It was believed that a pretty damsel was being rescued by a knight of honor and chivalry.

The ancient and middle ages saw the growth and development of romantic practices revolving around the idea of arranged marriages. In ancient times marriages were brutally forceful with captors forcing the captivated tribes or regions to give their womenfolk in marriage to the former. Sometimes the soldiers stole brides from amongst the tribes captured by them.   Marriages with the purpose of expanding the horizons of their kingdom were notable amongst the Oriental kings. Ironically as it may sound, romantic practice of marriage was borne out of a desire to forge commercial or political relations. Bride paying ‘bride price’ or dowry was one of the customary features of such unions.

In keeping with an old European custom; couples to marry were made to drink a brew by the name of methalgin; following the phases of moon. Hence the name honeymoon came into vogue. During the Renaissance; romantic practices found their footings in pastoral love. Marked by the excesses of intense love sickness; one of the pastoral traditions involved wooing the beloved by extending her a gift from the world of nature. Courtly love originating in the middle ages took on a seriously classical look during the Renaissance.

The traditionally conservative Victorian Age saw the imposition of certain rules and principles with regard to the issues of love and courtship. A man could not just make his way to a lady or vice versa. The couple had to be introduced formally. Before deciding on courtship or romance; they had to select the prospective suitors by presenting each other with cards. Following selection of both the parties, the couple could accompany one another home. So the issues of courtship giving way to the arrangement of marriage became more tradition bound during the Victorian era.

In many European and American countries during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries made elaborate arrangements for courting; with couples being given the choice to share a room filled with bed and other necessities so that the couples can choose their life partners keeping in mind the factors of compatibility. Couples courting one another to have an insight into their respective natures could only do so within the confines of their home.

An interesting practice in Norway involved the wearing of sheet by eligible maidens. In case the courting bachelor approved of the choice; he would make it known by inserting a knife into it. Similarly another important practice in vogue during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries revolved around beautifully carved love spoons of wooden make. In case, the suitor approved of the courting partner, he demonstrated his feelings by showing her those wooden spoons. Sometimes gloves in pair were sent to the concerned lady love to convey the similar emotions.

With the passage of time and gradual shift in focus on free mixing; there has been the widespread emergence of romantic practices such as dating, blind dating and group dating. Science and technology have given to it a new direction with dating and match making options being accessible online.

I LOVE YOU.  These three little words pack so much meaning (at least in the United States). Every culture has a different way of expressing romantic love with words, gestures and small tokens of affection.  Examples could be:  Will flowers be welcomed in Russia?  What could you do to show affection in Japan?  How do you tell someone in the Czech Republic that you have fallen in love with them?
In Japanese, the most common way to say “I love you” is “Suki da,” which literally means “like.” It can be used casually to say that you like someone or something, but it’s also used to express love amongst couples. “I suppose you liken this to American teenagers stressing the difference between ‘Do you like him, or do you like-like him?’
Other cultures, too, move a little quicker when expressing their feelings than most Americans do, with differing emotional weights attached to comparable phrases used around the world. “Comparing the U.S. emphasis on how big of a deal it is when a boyfriend says ‘I love you’ to the Dominican Republic, Dominicans would seem like they toss the phrase around frivolously.

While variants of “I love you” are used more casually in some countries, others are more serious about how the phrase should be used. “In the U.S., ‘I love you’ can also be used among friends — which would not be acceptable in the Czech Republic. “The phrase ‘I love you’ (‘Miliju tì’) is used only if we mean it for real, like if our love is really strong.  More often, we use ‘I like you’ (‘Mám tì rád(a)’) among friends or to express our affection for someone when it’s not yet a deep relationship.”

With only one word for “love” in English, some find it confusing trying to distinguish between the various types of love without having different words to convey each particular meaning. In Latin American countries, for example, there are two basic phrases: “Te quiero” and “Te amo.” The first is used casually by friends, family members and couples (similarly to “I love you”), whereas the latter carries a more dramatic connotation that only applies to an amour.  In some relationships, saying ‘te quiero’ was no big deal, but ‘te amo’ was a very big relationship moment — quickly followed by a marriage proposal.   Words aren’t the only way to express your feelings for someone. And while romantic gestures can vary greatly from country to country, there are some common ones used in the U.S. that wouldn’t go over well in other locales. For example: Sending an even number of flowers in Russia signifies death, so you wouldn’t want to present your beloved with a dozen roses. There’s one thing every culture has in common, though — the best gestures are the ones that show how much you really care.

In Peru, but Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Honduras as well, when you walk down the street with a man, he walks on the side where the cars are — and the woman walks on the side where the buildings are.  It’s supposed to protect you from traffic, animals, etc.

In the Czech Republic, you’ll find gestures such as a smile, a hug, a heart made by your fingers, a kiss sent by air, or simply being polite and nice which signify your affection, and that it also helps “to be a good listener and helper.”

In Japan, those kinds of overt displays aren’t part of the courtship process — a kiss in public would draw stares, and even hand-holding is considered risqué for some… particularly for people belonging to older generations. Instead, Japanese couples express their affection by finding little ways of taking care of each other. Men might carry their girlfriends’ bags, while for women, making a bento (‘boxed lunch’) for their husband, boyfriend, or a guy they like is seen as a loving gesture, and many men might brag about or envy each other’s aisai bento (‘beloved-wife bento’).

Love transcends cultural boundaries, sure — but words don’t necessarily do the same thing. So whether you’re saying “Gráím thú” in Ireland (Irish), “Asavakkit” in Greenland (Greenlandic), or “Ek’s lief vir jou” in Namibia (Afrikaans), make sure you mean it — and know what you’re saying beforehand.

 Kathy Kiefer


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