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Words Without Borders

The Foreign Writer's Guide to Dating in New York

Last night, I had dinner with two intelligent and charming ladies from Australia, whom I had met in Sydney during The Sydney Writers' Festival.
One of the ladies had recently moved to New York, and as often happens with freshly arrived immigrants, the conversation took the direction of cultural differences. More specifically, cultural differences in dating.
It was the second time in a few weeks that I had to discuss dating in New York. Over dinner on Thanksgiving, my editor at Penguin asked, "Have you ever dated American women?"
To give an honest answer, I had to go back to the spring of 1997. The New York Times Magazine had asked me to write a small piece about dating in New York compared to dating in Amsterdam for the issue "How Others See Us."
Well, I was never the dating champion of Amsterdam. To be fair, my dating history consisted of many, many misadventures.
For this piece for The New York Times, I decided to do some proper research. The best quote was delivered by a neighbor, a lady well into her seventies. She told me, “I didn’t mind the fucking, but I could not stand the kissing at the door.” Obviously, this quote didn’t make it into The New York Times Magazine. I wasn’t too familiar with the concept of a “family newspaper.” But James Atlas, editor of the magazine at that time, was kind enough to remind me what exactly a family newspaper is meant to be.
Somehow, my neighbor's quote summarized my modest research into dating in New York. There was kissing at the door, there was sex, sometimes even a relationship or a marriage. But most people I spoke to were not completely satisfied with the process.
So my answer to my editor was, “Yes, I dated some American women, but never successfully.” To be honest, my manicurist had forced me a few times to date her clients.
Here are some modest suggestions for Europeans who want to date in New York: - Start with the older ladies, and when I say older I mean older. I’m speaking here about ladies well into their seventies. You’ll have a good time but probably you won’t have sex. I’ll never forget the lady who told me she was working on a restaurant guide for people who had problems with their false teeth.
- Every place has its own no-go areas while dating. This is my list after eleven years in Manhattan: religion, politics, television, movie stars, sports, race, white trash, Eurotrash, Jews, Palestinians, hookers, brothels, sexually transmitted diseases and skin diseases. Try to avoid any kind of name dropping. Don’t say, “Oh well, John Malkovich called me yesterday.” - The safest subject to speak about is ex-boyfriends. Or ex-husbands. And the weather.


(Words Without Borders, December 6, 2006)