While living in France, either on exchange or temporary stay, one might come across the possibility of dating a French person. I recently came across this issue from a good friend of mine, exasperated about a few dates she went on and confused about the body language. She didn't understand why one guy was very standoffish and another was incessently texting, and when they were together, non hesitant to show affection. After consulting with many French friends I finally found out some major cultural differences between American dating and French dating. *note: This only applies to the 'true French'; meaning those who were raised in France. Also, it does not mean 100% of what I say is correct.. but about 95%... *
Dating is considered a sort of test, a prerelationship try period in which you go out, get to know the person. It's not a 'tie down' or a concept that you are automatically exclusive with a person. In the States we discuss serious relationships after quite a few dates; kissing, affection or hugging are normal in dating.. and it is also normal for us to date more than one person during a period of time. Often it's just not a big deal and the good night kiss is sort of an expected thing... that's the point of dating. It's totally normal to go on a few dates, then just decide it's not for you. Would you buy a pair of pants without trying them on? Why agree to a relationship when you don't even know the person? My mom used to have the 'key analogy'... would you give your keys of your car to someone you just met? no. So why would you give the exclusivity of yourself after two dates?
The French do not agree with my viewpoint on the subject.
According to my various sources, the general rule for the French is simple: Three kisses makes it a relationship. Hold on there... I stared, open mouthed (in French: bouche bée) and repeated.. You mean like, three deep passionate kisses? They stared back, shaking their heads, Non, like any three kisses. In the French culture kissing/affection is considered something big- often shared between boyfriends/girlfriends that are exclusive. First, it's often rare for two people to go out alone... often this form of dating is done in groups. Second, affection is saved for a 'sure thing'; if kissing is started it's considered as if there's something between the two people and beyond three it's considered like an exclusive thing... then you can present the person as your boyfriend/girlfriend.
Finding the Inbetween
Finding a balance between these two cultures tends to be a challenge; my recommendation when dating French people is to explain up front what the deal is with Americans. Explain that while we enjoy affection, if this affection will lead to an automatic relationship it's better to keep it slow.
If someone you are dating in France is being very reserved with touching, understand that it's a respect. They are getting to know you as a person, not you as an object. It's also the easiest way to keep from getting into a 'relationship'.
If someone is starting to touch, kiss and text a lot it's a sign that the French person sees you as more than just a 'date' and considers it a 'for sure thing'; as in they really want to be your boyfriend/girlfriend. A french person will not spend an enormous amount of money, shower you with attention and think it will go no where; also; while they are doing this- be aware they are not doing it to someone else.
What to Do?!
If you find yourself in the position where it's too serious from their end and you're not in the same place: stop giving affection. Stop texting back every day. Don't go out with them alone more than once a week. If it continues you'll have to have the talk.. express that it's a cultural difference and you enjoy being around them but you are not ready for a relationship. Especially; don't have sex. It's rare to have sex and not have it be something.
As a Warning
The French can be sensitive on this subject, if they are dating you and believe that it is something special then it could be disastrous. If the person you are seeing finds out you are seeing someone else on the side they will not stick around; it's considered 'piggish' or 'slutty' to behave in that manner and thus it's not even worth the effort to continue. It will only lead to broken hearts and misunderstandings... that way it's better to detail from the start the intentions.
Enjoy dating the French; for me they tend to be the most receptive and comfortable in a relationship. For those of us who enjoy the comforts of a relationship, they tend to develop quickly. In France we get to know someone while we are their girlfriend (versus the opposite in America). However, if you are someone looking for multiple dates and don't want to be tied down, it could prove to be frustrating; you have to handle it from the beginning and be honest... the French are notorious for blunt honesty.
Bonne chance et courage!