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Study abroad : Once you arrive

Valentine’s Day: Dating customs around the world

Read our guide to dating customs around the world. Pick up some tips and perhaps find the start that someone special this Valentine’s Day.

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No matter where you call home, the dating game is tricky. The same troublesome questions always come to the fore:  should I text him already?  When is it time to call you my girlfriend? Is it rude of him not to pay on the first date? Imagine how hard it is to answer those questions in a foreign country.

Every culture has different rules and conventions when it comes to dating. It can be difficult, alienating and outright terrifying to try and make sense of these alien situations. But not to worry: we’ve put together a list of dating ins and outs from around the world to help you snag that special someone. This Valentine’s Day, we’ve got you covered...


Dating in America

Dating is a commonplace and very distinct part of American culture in the US. Usually it’s the guy who does the asking, whilst the dates themselves are organized events with sets of understood codes and conventions. Grabbing a coffee is a date.  Dinner is a date. Lunch is a date.  Drinks are a date. It’s completely normal for a guy to just approach a girl and ask her out, and it’s also considered standard for him to pay on the first date. As dates are non-committal affairs, and it’s completely acceptable to go on dates with multiple people in the initial stages of romance.


Dating in the UK

As in the US, dating is common in the UK, but adheres to conventions much less definite.  Dating multiple people, even initially, is frowned upon, with Brits looking more towards traditional attitudes of etiquette and chivalry to impress a girl. This may seem conservative to some, but really, it’s meant as a way of showing respect and not coming across as too forward. A date can be anything from a cheeky drink to a formal dinner, with no set pattern for how things might progress from there.


Dating in Australia

Dating in Australia is a dressed down affair. To others, Aussie dating culture may seem non-existent, but dates do happen, only on much more relaxed terms. It’s completely normal for either sex to take initiative, and common for both to foot the bill. Being asked for coffee is the way things usually start: it’s casual, simple, cheap, and an easy, no-pressure way to see if you like spending time together. Don’t be put off by casual, non-committal language such as “catch up” and “hang out:” these terms mean to keep pressure off initially, leaving potential for something to happen later. Coming on too strong is a big no-no: take it easy, and don’t think about whether it ‘feels’ like a date or not. It feels good or it doesn’t—most Australians tend to take things from there. 


Dating in Sweden

There isn’t a proper word for ‘dating’ in Swedish. Asking someone out for dinner or a drink is considered pushy; what’s generally done is go for a ‘fika,’ a daytime meeting for a coffee. A ‘fika’ is never actually called a date, yet both parties have full knowledge that they are on a ‘date’ of sorts whilst simultaneously pretend that they aren’t. In Sweden, gender equality is a huge part of Swedish culture and so men are neither expected to pay nor take the lead in the wooing process. Texting is the preferred Swedish channel of communication, and so if the ‘fika’ goes well then you can expect at least a few texts the next day.  


Dating in the Netherlands

The nation responsible for the saying “going Dutch” treats dating as a direct, straightforward affair. In the Netherlands, Dutch culture champions honesty and being open with one’s opinions, with little fuss attached to what you wear or how done up you are. It’s just as okay to wear bright red jeans as it is to turn up in sunglasses and sneakers. Famously, it’s also common to split the bill right down the middle on the first date. This may seem rude to some but instead nods towards the Dutch value of equality.


Dating in Hong Kong

Dating in China is a complex affair mired in age-old cultural attitudes and social custom. The concept of casual dating does not exist. Whilst this is gradually changing, many remain uncomfortable with the concept of dating to get to know someone. In Hong Kong, agreeing to a first date is a considered formal acknowledgement of the relationship as something potentially serious. Interested parties usually meet at a party organized by a mutual friend, allowing them to interact in a consequence-free environment with an easy exit clause if things don’t work out.


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About Author

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Monica Karpinski received her BA (Media and Communications) and Diploma in Modern Languages (French) from the University of Melbourne, Australia. An art and culture aficionado, in her spare time Monica enjoys film, reading and writing about art.