By Genevieve Woingust
While there are certain universal characteristics that come into play when boy meets girl or woman meets man – like palpitations, sweaty palms and “foot in mouth’ disease – which have little bearing on nationality, ethnicity or custom, there are certain rules of conduct that differ among countries. So in order to avoid frustration and embarassement, there are some “Do’s and Dont’s” you may want to be aware of. Keep in mind however, that there are exceptions to every rule; age, social status and local customs come into play as well as changing attitudes stemming from feminist influences. For now, however, here are some basics to get you started.
For instance, dating protocol in Germany remains more traditional than that of in the States, where it is not unusual -especially in larger cities centers – for a woman to ask a man for a date. However, in Germany (and Europe in general) a man is expected to ask a woman out. At the same time, it is not unusual for a woman – in some subtle and not so subtle ways – to indicate her interest in being asked.
Overall, arranging where to meet or pick up a date is flexible; It may be a prearranged location like a theater, restaurant or disco, or at the home of one or the other depending on availability of transportation. However if a young woman, presumably living with her parents, has accepted the invitation of a man it is customary for him to pick her up at her home; bringing a small bouquet, or a flower or two for the mother is considered in good taste.
Remember, however, flowers for mom, In no way indicates interest in the daughter (or the mother for that matter!) but is simply a courtesy. A man won’t be thrown out of the house if be doesn’t make this gesture but to bring flowers will indeed enhance his image.
Dating vs. Bedding Down
Contrary to dating customs in the U.S. it is not unusual in Germany for a man to date a woman much younger than he. However, we are talking about dating not courting. Most German parents do not expect (and may even get down-right nasty) if serious advances are made toward a young daughter (she having ideas of her own, notwithstanding.). Dating here, might be better considered a form of socializing and not a preliminary step to bedding down or marriage.
German men and women traditionally marry at an older age than their American counterparts; and they spend much of their adolescence and early to mid-twenties dating various people and going out with groups as opposed to the one-on-one dating or “going steady.”
Along this line, a German woman who is an acquaintance and an attorney practicing in Frankfurt, spoke to me of a year spent as an exchange student in an American university. After a first date with an American classmate, she was genuinely flabbergasted by his expectations of sleeping with her afterwards. A sophisticated, and independent woman, Ingrid six years later is still puzzled by this ”custom.” On the other hand. a woman may consider it an insult if no romantic interest at all were expressed.
Back to age, and unfortunately the double standard, it is also not unusual for young German men to date woman considerably older than they; the understanding being that it is good experience or training for the men.
Anyway, returning to our date – it is expected that if a man has asked a woman out, he is to pay for the evening. This, again, may vary depending on the ages, resources, etc. of the couple. Remember also, that bringing a young woman home at the time promised to her parents is important.* And finally, in most cases it is the man who is expected to call/ask for a sub- sequent date.
*Punctuality is expected here much more so than in the States, So if you’ve accepted an invitation or made a date regardless for whatever or with whom, keep it’. Not to do so without sufficient notice, or short of a verifiable “at deaths door excuse”, may well be considered a serious affront.