Around the world in 80 dates: UC Berkeley students talk dating abroad

Illustration of different dating settings around the world
Flora Huynh/Staff

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In a typical year, more than 1,800 UC Berkeley students apply for a visa, get their passports stamped and move into some small apartment far from Berkeley. Navigating their new surroundings, students often turn to not only Google Maps but also dating apps to orient themselves. So, this year, to cap off the Sex issue, we reminisced with UC Berkeley students about their experiences dating abroad.

When campus junior Anna Becker moved to Geneva in August, she found a stark contrast to the desolate vibe of Berkeley in lockdown, with Geneva’s bars and restaurants open and couples drinking on the beaches of Lake Geneva. To explore the city, Becker went on a few Tinder dates. She described the routine:

“You go to a Tabac store, which is like a little liquor store, pick out two tall cans of beer — they’re really cheap — drink, talk,” Becker said. “Swimming was a big part of it, which is usually not something I would normally do on a first date, but it just felt really right here.”

After a few dates, Becker quickly began to notice cultural differences she’d only heard through her Swiss family members growing up.

“Right off the bat, you can kind of notice the more reserved culture of the men. They usually don’t make the first move,” Becker said. “There are jokes about things going on forever without anything happening because there’s a huge emphasis on politeness.”

When senior Rachel Williams went to study abroad in Lund, Sweden, she also found the culture to emphasize politeness more than she was used to, which she said often encouraged women to be bolder.

“It seemed a lot more customary for the girls there to be more forward,” Williams said. “We were watching the Swedish girls, and they were making the first move.”

Williams noticed this more gender-neutral atmosphere at a party at the nations, Lund University’s coed equivalent to a fraternity or sorority.

“Being in Greek life in Berkeley, you feel the difference between a fraternity and a sorority — there’s a very different vibe and different stereotypes that are a part of the institution,” Williams said. “Even the fact that the nations were coed, that definitely brought a different kind of socializing. … It wasn’t girls versus guys; you were just talking to each other.”

While Williams’ romantic encounters happened at university-associated events, junior Sequoia Ricks embraced the dating scene at Tokyo’s bars and karaoke clubs. 

Because many young Japanese people live with their parents until they get married, according to Ricks, instead of going back home with a date after a night of barhopping, it is common to go to a love hotel. 

“A love hotel is basically these zero-interactions hotels where you walk into the lobby, press a button, pay with your credit card,” Ricks said. “Usually, they’re themed, also, which is interesting, and you can do them by the hour or the night.”

While Tinder dates and encounters at clubs can offer a quick glimpse into another way of life, those who stay immersed in another culture longer may uncover differences in the country’s approach to romantic commitment.

Senior Jacqueline King spent an entire academic year in Paris and found that the French people she dated were a lot more relaxed about the terms of their engagement. 

“People are a little bit quicker in America to put a label on things, whether it be like, ‘we’re just hooking up’ or ‘it’s just casual’ or, you know, ‘this is my partner, girlfriend, boyfriend,’ ” King said.

King partially attributed the nonchalant Parisian dating attitude to the cafe culture, which created an easygoing dating environment.

“In the U.S., it’s such an ordeal to plan a date and pick a place to go, whereas in Paris it was very easy to just say, ‘Want to grab a drink at a cafe?’ ” King said. “A drink would be 3 euros, and that was sort of like a go-to first date across the board.”

If King wasn’t grabbing an aperitif at the brasserie near her apartment, she would find herself indulging in “plein air,” walking aimlessly with her date as her tour guide, showing her all their secret pathways in the city. 

For senior Jane Hood, who spent her time abroad in Dublin, dates took place in more closed-off areas such as pubs and clubs, but the alcohol was still in European-typical abundance. 

“I think I drank on every date that I went on, which I wouldn’t typically do here,” Hood said. 

Pub culture might dominate Dublin’s dating scene, but Hood spent her first date in the city’s main gay bar, where the evening ended with a drag show and lots of dancing. 

“We met up at like 8 or something, … which is a bit early to go to a club, so we were like the first people there, and it was pretty empty, but that was good (because) we got to talk for like an hour,” Hood said. 

While a time of dancing with drag queens in foreign countries seems like a lifetime ago, when it’s safe, we’ll be ready, so… cue the music.

Contact Francesca Hodges and Ruby Sutton at [email protected].