What About Friendship with the Opposite Sex in France?

(asked by someone from the US)
I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about friendships with the opposite sex in France, especially in terms of how guys and girls show affection (both physically and verbally) towards each other. Of course, I realize it is difficult to generalize, but would still be interested to know of any stark contrasts you have noticed when comparing this particular aspect of American and French culture.
Can I talk about it?
I’m not sure at all. Simply because more than ever I think there are as many answers as there are individuals on that topic, and it’ll range from people that simply don’t believe that being friend with somebody from the opposite sex is even possible to people that don’t make the slightest difference between their male and their female friends.
Now if I try to compare between France and the US, I’d say that friends that are from both genders may be more common in France, simply because we’re a culture where people mix more, but also because social activities are less “gendered.”
No, really, that’s all I can say about the topic, I saw as many different situations in the US as in France and as in many other Western countries. I don’t think one can draw any general tendency at all.
Sorry.
(of course if you think you can, please do comment)

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16 Comments

  1. Laetitia
    October 5, 2009
    Reply

    I do agree, I also feel that friendships can be as strong between men as men and women. I have been several times in the US, though I never lived there for a long time, and I feel that relationships between genders are a little bit more sexually-oriented. In France, as I grew up, at school, music or in the sport club, I had as easily boys and girls friends. As a grown-up, my best friend is a man (and I am a woman), and though it is not such a common thing, it is not shocking at all.

    One can also note that you can ask someone out and it would not automatically be a date. See a movie, have a drink, these are the king of things two people of different genders can easily do as friends, and not dating.

  2. Ksam
    October 5, 2009
    Reply

    This is of course just my experience, but I've found friendships with French men to be almost impossible. The whole idea of "platonic" friendship does not seem to exist here – there is always some kind of subcontext behind it. Out of all the French men I know, I can't really think of any who have close girl friends other than their wife/girlfriend. And any attempts I've made to make friends with them have been strictly rebutted by their partner.

    I've seen it happen with many friends as well – they meet French men and inform them that they want to be friends because they have a boyfriend or they're not interested, and the man will say "No problem", but then always invariably ends up trying to make a move. But that said, Frenchmen who've been abroad (such as yourself Frenchman) seem to understand this phenomenon better and seem to be more capable of these non-sexual friendships.

    I do think it may be a cultural difference though. We anglophones are so worried about sexual harassment that male/female friendships have almost been androgonized, whereas in France the roles are still more defined/traditional.

  3. October 5, 2009
    Reply

    Laetitia: Exactly. While I had many female friends in the US too, becoming friends with them was "harder" because I often had to "give proof" that it's all I wanted, and very often, they'd feel comfortable with me after a while as almost 100% of American women I'd ask for a coffee or something will automatically think "date".

    Sam: I think we've had this conversation before, but I still disagree, and still feel you just met the wrong people. And no, gender roles are more defined in the US, no question about that. It's in the US not in France that you have things such as "chick flicks", it's in the US not in France that guys "go out with the boys at the sports bar" and women have a "girls night", in France when you go out, you just go out with your friends, and it's really rare that it's only guys or only girls, it's almost always a mix of things. And even couples, French couples tend to have common hobbies, while in most American couples, the man has his hobbies (usually with other guys) and the woman has hers (usually with other women).
    American culture is more gender defined than the French one.

  4. Non Je Ne Regrette Rien
    October 5, 2009
    Reply

    I think this topic is more based on the person you are (or are attempting friendship with), regardless of nationality. I had loads of guy friends in the states, gay and straight … and I've already made a few guy friends here as well (in my one year). I've also made couple friends … without any stigma from either party. but anyhoo…yeah i think it is just who ya meet and how you approach it.

  5. Ksam
    October 6, 2009
    Reply

    I don't know…I had loads of male friends in the US and I really enjoyed spending time with them. It is something I definitely miss over here.

    And Frenchman, I don't think it's specific to where I lived before – the same thing goes for Paris too. I've met a lot of people over the years, and I can only think of two who have straight, male friends (and they're quite a bit older). In my group of friends, there are a few gay Frenchmen and a few foreign men, but no straight ones. And when I think of the French females I knew back in Bretagne, I can't really think of any who had male friends either – they just had the boyfriends/husbands of their girl friends, but they never hung out together.

    Something else I thought of – I am the only female in an office of males and when I started traveling with them for work, my (French female) clients used to ask me "Doesn't your husband mind you're traveling with them? What about their wives?" I remember being surprised by the question because it wasn't even something that had crossed my mind!

  6. October 6, 2009
    Reply

    Well KSam, what can I say?
    You must surround yourself with one type of people "only?" because as I said, of course the type of people you describe exists, but they're just one kind among many.

    As "Je ne regrette rien" says I'd be tempted to say that it depends on the person you are, not where you are.

  7. Ksam
    October 6, 2009
    Reply

    I don't know, the personality theory doesn't explain it for me – in that case, the person wouldn't have male friends in either country or with other foreigners. It is true though that the many of books written about the cultural differences between the US and France even mention that platonic friendships are a lot rarer in France. I'm by no means saying they are impossible or never exist however.

    And I definitely don't think I hang out with just one kind of person – in fact we often talk about how most of us would have never met in our home countries because we traveled in different circles. You should know Frenchman, you read many of their blogs!

  8. October 6, 2009
    Reply

    I don't mean personality by "the kind of person you are", or at least not only personality, but also social class, education, background in general, etc.

    Also, you and the friends you mention have a common trait that no French people has: You're not French. 🙂

    While I always had female friends from many nationalities (not only French and American), I know that there are a bunch of American women (and not only American, but that's the topic here) that I could never be friends with…

  9. boulet
    October 6, 2009
    Reply

    It's my experience also that in France male-female "platonic" friendships are very frequent. I have a dozen of female friends in France (and even more male friends but that's not the point) and most of the guys my age I know do too. I don't care in general for contrived guys night out. Either I have a shared interest with people and I'll enjoy going out with them, or I don't, gender doesn't matter much.

  10. NightFlyer
    October 9, 2009
    Reply

    French boys and girls receive exactly the same education, share the same activities, sports and games, less "gender" defined than in USA. It doesn't mean that in France reigns an idyllic equality between men and women, we are far from it! But it implies a "complicité" (couldn't find an English equivalent word for that..) between women and men I didn't find elsewhere in western countries.
    Ksam, I've maybe an explanation about the issues that you have met with. There is a popular game we like to play in France, whose rules are known and internalized by everybody, we call it "marivaudage" or "badinage" and the English "banter" doesn't translate fully the whole concept. It's a game with words, wit, body language, it looks like "flirting" but it's just a game without consequences or innuendos. I've seen so many funny misunderstandings about it when no-French people (women) have to deal with it. It explains also why people who travel (as I do) "seem to understand this phenomenon better" as you wrote. Just because we know it won't be understood as a game but like a sort of "boring typical French harassment"!

  11. Glass
    October 13, 2009
    Reply

    I don't mean to constantly talk about the US as this blog is mainly about France, (guess the particular style of English of the blog draws a large US interest) but I am from the US, so I will go ahead and do it anyway.

    In the US, platonic relationships between genders are common, but mostly in larger groups. One straight man and one straight woman hanging out alone is much less common and highly suspect by others here. (side note: It is extremely common for two gay men to hang out as platonic friends here, but the gay community doesn't really count in the US to most, hahaha)

    I watch a French-made video series called "French In Action" from 1987 (my only in-depth exposure to French culture), and throughout the program, the principle character, a Parisian girl, has many platonic male friends. In fact, her American love interest becomes quite disturbed when she wants to meet up with her platonic male friends, or when she kisses them on the cheeks. This is a 26 hour long French course that is supposed to help a foreigner understand French customs along with the language, so it might provide a somewhat general perspective of relationships in France?

    One fun side-note: In the US, many people are generally creeped-out when a supposed platonic "friend" makes a move. Thus, if one wants a relationship to go somewhere, they have to make their intentions known at the onset of meeting someone new. Otherwise, they could be labeled a creep (social nightmare here) by "misleading" the new person into thinking they had a new platonic friend. This is another showcase of how the roles of friends OR lovers are quite defined in the US. I wonder how a transition from a platonic friendship to a physical relationship works in France.

  12. October 13, 2009
    Reply

    Ah "French in Action"!!! Those videos are so tacky…
    I taught with them (sort of) years ago, I had almost forgotten about them. Well, to be honest it's not true, I think about them every time I walk by the "Home Latin" hotel (about once a month).

    As far as platonic friendships going to love relationships in France, I don't think I can really talk about them as they're so rare. And were they platonic friendships at the first place or did they just look like that?

  13. Glass
    October 14, 2009
    Reply

    Haha, So "French in Action" is tacky? I truly hadn't noticed because I become so excited when I can understand the characters! If I were ever to walk by the "Home Latin" hotel, I'm sure I would 'freak-out' due to these videos, though it would be all internal. I've seen some English instructional videos that I thought were super tacky, but English learners don't seem to notice this aspect either.

  14. October 14, 2009
    Reply

    Well, maybe it was not as tacky in 1987… 😉

  15. Leesa
    October 23, 2009
    Reply

    Hey D! I hate to say it, but I was "fixed" in front of the tele during those episodes of "FIA." That show helped my French much more than all of the years I took it in school…

    P.S. Why is it I don't have more guy friends here in France or that the guy friends I have are NOT French.. Hmmmm….Well, I'm married and I think if I were here as a single woman with all these guys around, I'd be considered an American slut, by French standards… Or, maybe I'd just fit in perfectly!! hehe…
    Oh well.. I'm ALL for mixed sex friendships whether they are platonic or not.. if they are not platonic.. we then say– friends "with benefits." There's another word that comes to mind but it's more vulgar so I won't say it… I think when you are an adult.. you can have friends of any sex and do what you want… why stop at just friendship if you are single and consenting… Is that to presumptuous of me, or is that not to be included in this discussion?
    Just sayin'…..

  16. Kam
    November 2, 2011
    Reply

    Just thought I share my experience. I had a French girlfriend. She told my her first love was plutonic. He wanted to sex with her but she declined and they remained friends. Another French guy she claimed as her best friend, I was suspicious of this one. I believe that with the majority of man and woman friendships in France, there is subcontext if you have a very attractive young lady and straight man. She would like to think just friends, but the guy will make a move once he thinks he has her trust and confidence or like in this case, this French guy just got frustrated after 8 months. In the end, this guy didn’t turn up to an event because he confessed he was in love with her. My girlfriend is also friends with her first boyfriend. Most French guys will make a move but if the woman declines, most will be happy to remains friends.

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