Say you’re single, looking for love, and in another country. Flirting your way across the world can be fun and adventurous. However, take note—the rules of courtship vary so significantly from culture to culture that it is crucial to brush up on your etiquette.
Your success, your enjoyment, and sometimes even your very freedom is on the line. We’ve handpicked some countries that stand out for their differences, and highlighted the main points of flirting in various parts of the world.
Asia: Slow it down.
Flirting in Asia can be more subtle, respectful, and slow than you may be used to.
Let men know through body language that you are available.
If you’re traveling there, the first thing on the docket should be to learn a polite bow. Bowing is the best substitute for a handshake or a kiss on the cheek in Japan, parts of China and Taiwan, for example.
Award-winning dating and travel blogger Ingrid Levin seconds the slow nature of Asian courtship.
“When it comes to flirting in China, I don’t recommend women tapping into their masculine energy, as this can backfire,” says Levin. “I do recommend letting men know through body language that you are available and open to being approached.”
Brazil: Speak like the locals.
The great Brazilian band Os Mutantes tried to teach us an important lesson with the English-language version of their 1971 hit “Baby“: “You know, it’s time now to learn Portuguese,” goes the line. It turns out following their advice will put you on the road to some Sao Paolo sweetness.
According to Graceful Grady, CEO and founder of Mix Amore, a multicultural and interracial dating app, simply staring and smiling at someone in Brazil will get you attention, but learning Portuguese is what will really capture the heart of any Brazilian.
“Brazilians appreciate the effort you put in to impress them in their language,” he says.
France: Dive right in.
The French are famously full of charm, so don’t be surprised if you encounter even more flirting there than in other nations.
French men are open to anything.
Flirtation is embedded in the culture, writes American ex-pat in Paris Paige Bradley Frost, and can pop up pretty much anywhere. It’s also fun, Frost writes.
Levin agrees. “I definitely recommend women engaging in conversation with French men,” she says. “They are open to anything.”
Well, almost. “I would steer away from asking them what they do for a living,” Levin says.
Oh, and a word about language: Draguer is the most common French word for “hitting on someone.” The term séduction means trying to talk someone into sleeping with you, but can also generally mean charming someone of either sex.
Italy: Let’s get physical.
Physical affection is like breathing to many Italians. In Italy, there’s often a hug around every corner.
Unfortunately, Italian men have a reputation for flirting rather aggressively, explains Levin.
“In Italy, the testosterone-driven men do not take no for an answer when they ask you out,” she says. “I recommend being honest with them and only accepting the invitation if you are interested.”
She continues, “Definitely steer away from being too sweet; if you’re not interested, tell them no. Don’t let their tenacity frighten you.”
Mexico: Don’t make like a tea kettle.
Whistles are infamously ised by construction workers all over the world…but is it an effective way to flirt? No. Not ever. That’s especially true, though, if you’re in Mexico.
“We just came back from a leadership conference in Mexico where one American man whistled at a woman while she was speaking and many people in the crowd were appalled,” recalled Jocelyn and Aaron Freeman, authors, speakers, and social entrepreneurs.
Meanwhile, whistling with an actual whistle should probably be reserved for emergencies. Monique Serbu, safety advisor and author of online dating guide How to Date Online Safely says that a whistle should never be used for anything other than calling for help, especially in another country.
“Many police officers in foreign countries carry whistles, so it is a sound that is associated with danger for most women,” she says.
The Arab World: Pretty much don’t.
In many parts of the world, a public display of intimacy—from a long hug to a chaste kiss on the cheek—is all part of the dance of flirtation. However, getting too publicly physical in parts of the Middle East—like Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates—could get you in trouble.
Arab men and women are careful about appearances when they meet.
In 2010, for instance, a British woman was arrested in Dubai for kissing a friend at a restaurant. She was sentenced to a month in prison for indecency.
Don’t be offended if a member of the opposite sex refuses to be alone with you in Arab nations, either.
“Arab men and women are careful about appearances when they meet,” writes Margaret Nydell in her book Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Modern Times. “They avoid situations where they would be alone together, even for a short time.”
Note that this is a cultural more, not a diss. “Guarding a woman’s image is neither a personal nor a family choice,” Nydell writes. “It is imposed by the culture, just as chaperones were once required in Western society.”
Meanwhile, Serbu advises a little social caution when you travel pretty much anywhere in the world. “Women should be careful traveling in any foreign country, but especially in places where customs vary so significantly from their own,” advises Serbu.
The Netherlands: Keep your distance.
You may be having a wonderful conversation with a stranger in the Netherlands, and be inspired to pat him on the shoulder as a gesture of friendliness, but you’ll want to keep your flirtation verbal in the beginning.
According to Serbu, the Dutch are often concerned about their personal safety, and any physical advance between strangers will put them on guard.
There is one exception to this personal bubble: “Amsterdam is one of the few exceptions to this rule, as people there seem to be more open and inviting to strangers in general,” she says.
Sweden: Do be kind; he’s trying.
Visitors to Sweden might not know when a man tries to flirt with them at all. It can be pretty hard to spot.
Swedish men are a little more practical.
Julien Bourrelle, author of The Social Guidebook to Sweden, gives an example of a pick-up line that seems particularly Swedish to him. It’s not likely to seem very flirtatious to non-Swedes, though: “Your eyes are very blue.”
That line is hardly to send a woman head over heels, but to the Swedes, it’s actually quite sweet. “They are telling a woman that they noticed her, which is a big thing in Sweden,” Bourelle writes.
“Swedish men are a little more practical” than their French or Italian counterparts, he claims.
The World Over: Do these three things.
According to Rich Goss, a man who hosts flirting conventions around the world, there are a few things that nearly universal.
Do your research.
1. Eye Contact. You have to stare at someone for just about two seconds, Goss says. If you stare less than two seconds, they might not know you’re trying to flirt with them. More than two seconds, they call the cops.
2. Smile. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Just make sure you don’t overdo it. You don’t want to end up staring like a creepy clown.
3. If the first two techniques don’t work (and they often don’t), you have to use an opening line. Don’t mistake an opening line for a cheesy pick up line, though. That’s totally unfair to opening lines. After all, every conversation needs one—somebody has say the first sentence.
Anyway, ideally after the first two techniques—eye contact and smile—the other person will get the message and come up to you and start talking. But if they don’t start the conversation, you’ll have to suck it up and make the first move. Don’t be corny, though. Opening lines have a bad enough reputation as it is.
Before you apply this formula, of course, you’ll need to do your research about the culture of the country you’re visiting. Not every nation views eye contact between the sexes as appropriate. In fact, if you had to boil all these rules down to a single “Do,” it would be this: “Do your research.”
But don’t do this.
Don’t grab or grope. Ever.
Even if you two are making googly eyes at each other for hours, there’s no excuse to get handsy with someone who hasn’t consented to it. As romantic as traveling can make you feel, keep your hands off and proceed with respect.
“The universal law of flirting is to engage in feminine energy body language and demeanor,” Levin says. “For men, it’s always a safe bet to approach in a nonaggressive steady manner. Chivalry is not dead, and women do appreciate a gentleman stepping up to approach them in any setting.”
When you’re traveling single, the world is yours—but only if you adhere to the rules of the culture you’re immersing yourself in. Safety should be your top priority, with fun and adventure a close second.