Dating Abroad and the Selective Use of Puns

Advice: avoid foreign women, you’re just begging for trouble.

Of course, this raises a practice/preach problem for me, since I fall in love four or five times daily (and especially with foreign women), but seriously, trying to date abroad has been one misplaced word after another. No matter where I am, I’m always seeing beautiful women—perfect smiles, callipygian rumps, legs that don’t quit, and all the best etceteras. But, I can’t talk to them.

In the United States, if I begin to feel the throbbings of love course through my body, I waste no time in lighting up a cigarette, approaching the female in question, and saying something that sounds like maybe Humphrey Bogart said it. “I wasn’t afraid to shoot Captain Renault and I’m not afraid to shoot you,” is a personal favorite, but never underestimate the power of French on the English-speaking mind—Jean-Luc Belmondo’s “Coucher avec moi ce soir” paired with a come-hither-I’m-not-asking stare is a great substitute when Bogart doesn’t seem appropriate.

Here in Prague, though, I’m not dealing with the English-speaking mind. Even worse, I don’t think Mr. Bogart ever said anything in Czech, and even if he had, I couldn’t follow it up with any sweet talk of my own. Imagine this: you see a European beauty on the street, she smiles at you, you smile back, and then…what? “Ahoj, jsem Ameri?an. Hotel?” I think not.

The point is this: when it comes to dating, things can get pretty hard when you’re in a foreign country. Fortunately, the language barrier is not the be-all end-all to meeting locals while studying abroad. In Prague, anyway, there are plenty of people who DO speak English, more or less. Leaving aside the touristicoimperialist guilt that I feel when I approach someone and start yammering off in the language of world domination (this is an entirely different conversation), the proliferation of English-speakers makes it a bit easier to find new friends, dates, whatever. Of course, you can never tell how much English any given woman will speak, and there’s still the actual mechanics of the asking part, which, well:

Here’s some actual dialogue: (approximately).

Me: … so when you get off work come get a cup of coffee with me.Her: Why? Do you need help? (I know, I didn’t get it either.)Me: Um, no, but (smoking furiously now) I wanted to get to know you?Her: Oh, um—Me: Look now, don’t say no, or I’m gonna go tell your manager you’re being rude to me and you’re gonna get fired and—Her: The manager? I will get her.Me: No, no…um, okay just…just never mind.

There are obviously some problems here, but what more can you expect when you’re yammering off in a “capitalist” language that nobody even studied until 20 years ago? Not too much, I’m afraid, and take it from me: learning Czech in three months is not at all a possibility.

Even if it were, and I did speak perfect Czech, there are still the cultural differences in acceptable courtship behavior. When I finally got my first date with a Czech woman, I found that I was beset on all sides with questions. Questions like: what do Czechs even do on dates? Should I bring her flowers? How nicely should I dress? Wait, you still live with your parents? How old did you say you were again? And so on.

As per standard operating procedure, I decided not to worry about the details and rely on my sublime sense of humor to get me through the night—any weird faux pas can be laughed off as idiot-Americanism. The trouble with conversing in a broken lingua franca is that so many of the subtle cues and puns and little sarcasms that make up everyday flirting are lost on the ears of non-native speakers.

To make matters worse, nobody actually looks cute when they’re saying “um” every four or five words and conjugating all their verbs the wrong way, so the conversation tends to get really strained really fast. And that goes for both parties. I’m nervous and confused and I can’t understand her accent so I’m talking too fast and cracking too many jokes and laughing too much and not paying enough attention to the bewildered look on her face and she’s thinking how into myself I am and why am I talking so much if she clearly isn’t getting it and what the hell am I talking about anyway?

This is not good, and it’s especially not good when you’re counting on your purported sense of humor to get you through the date. So when I finally shut up and give her a chance to speak I should be relieved, except I feel like I’m in an ESL lesson. Nothing kills a moment like the swift “Nerozumim,” or my (less graceful) “Um, can you say that in English please?”

Of course, many students have the good sense to study abroad in a country where a common language is spoken, and this should definitely ease the burden of conversation; but my understanding is that European women (I can’t speak for the others) aren’t all that interested in American men, even if we do act like Rick Blaine. You can’t blame them either: sooner or later someone is going to mention (or ask or figure out) that you’re only going to be staying in their country for three or four months, and then back to the United States. In my experience, this does not reflect well on your so-called pure intentions.

So what are we supposed to do? As far as I can tell, there are only two real options for dating abroad: you don’t do it, or you get ready to look like (read: be) a fool. Most of the students that I’ve spoken with have admitted to largely avoiding relationships, and for the few who have put themselves on the market, there seems to be no end to the possibilities for really, really awkward situations.

Even so, I think it’s better to try and get involved in the culture (and the people) of the country you choose to study in; I know I said to avoid foreign women, but maybe I was wrong, maybe the worst that can happen is you’ll end up cold and alone in the rain on some claustrophobic street off the Old Town Square…

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