Dating isn’t easy, even in the age of Tinder and Bumble. In theory, we only have to swipe left until we find the person of our dreams, but practically, we spend hours sending messages, arranging meet-ups, and trying in vain to make a great first impression. It’s not a simple process; who knew your date didn’t want to see your collection of rare Inuyasha DVDs?
But when you’re dating someone from another country, first impressions can be even rougher. Different countries have different norms, even when they share a few major cultural touchstones, so a romantic gesture to you might come off as an embarrassing faux pas to them.
With that in mind, we decided to look into the major differences between courtship customs in the U.S. and Britain, drawing on the experiences of a few people who’ve dated in both countries. If you’re thinking about meeting up with someone from the other side of the pond, here’s what you need to know.
1. In Britain, dating can start off rather…subtly.
For Americans, British dating might not actually seem like dating—not at first, anyway.
“Going to the pub is an adequate date,” travel blogger Megan Starr tells Urbo. Starr’s an American, and her partner is British. “This is not considered a date in my world, but he seems to think this is pretty normal. I just go with it.”
a british guy once asked me out on a date to go to a pub and a taxidermy museum afterwards. he's probably the one that got away. smh.
— abi | black lives matter (@hotlinebalingit) January 30, 2017
The stereotypical English person is polite to the point of standoffishness. There’s some truth to that stereotype, at least in the dating scene, according to our experts; the Brits prefer to keep first dates fairly simple, and during the first phase of a relationship, they’ll avoid difficult conversations, preferring instead to simply spend time together in a casual context. While Americans might not think twice about asking loads of questions on a first date, Brits would consider that behavior slightly rude.
“Going on a date is all about getting to know the person [sitting across from] you,” says Steph Koyfman of Babbel Magazine, which hosts educational content about different cultures. “However, it is important to note that Brits tend to avoid asking their date too many questions, particularly on the first date, as doing so in British culture is often perceived as being too ‘intense.'”
Koyfman says British first dates typically take place in the evening. A couple will typically go to a pub for their first time out together, where they’ll keep things casual with light conversation and a couple of drinks.
2. Generally speaking, Americans are more upfront about what they want from a relationship.
Our British and American sources agreed that the British tend to be more polite—sometimes to a fault.
“In the UK, there’s a lot of politeness, but sometimes that can be stifling,” says Amica Graber, relationship expert for TruthFinder. Graber is British, and she’s happily married to an American.
“You might be hanging out with someone in London for two weeks and have no idea if you’re on a date or just hanging out,” she says. “When I first met my [American] husband, he called me the next day and asked me on a date.”
“In America, everyone is way more direct with their feelings. It’s either a hard yes or a hard no, and they’re not afraid to tell it how it is.”
Dating should never be a game. In a game there's a winner and a loser. Be straightforward
— James Williams (@J_Willy14) February 8, 2015
Sometimes, that directness can seem like coarseness—the “ugly American” is a common stereotype for a reason, and it has nothing to do with our physical appearance—but it can be an asset in dating.
3. Predictably, Americans tend to find public displays of affection more palatable than British people.
Hate PDA? If so, you might enjoy spending some time in Britain.
“How much affection you show your date in public various depends to a large extent on personal preference,” Koyfman notes. “[But] commonly, Brits don’t tend to show much affection to their date in public, preferring to keep displays of affection to a minimum and behind closed doors, while Americans are often much more physically affectionate in public.”
With that said, as Brits warm up, they’re not afraid to show their feelings and communicate with their partners. The British are known for their dry sense of humor, so if you date someone from the United Kingdom, you can probably expect some light teasing from time to time.
“[My partner] is not shy to make fun of me if I mess up or fall,” Starr says. “I actually like this, and we can, as he calls it, ‘take the piss out of each other.'”
In fact, the British even “roast” family members and friends at their wedding receptions, so if you can’t laugh at yourself, you might not want to date a Brit. We’ve written more about the difference between British and American weddings here.
4. When the check comes, American men often try to pay.
Brits are more likely to split the bill, although this bit of etiquette is far from universal.
“Everyone has their own opinion when it comes to paying the bill for a date, and this should always be taken into consideration,” Koyfman posits. “In the UK, the general view tends to be that the bill should be equally split between both parties. In the U.S., although young people are splitting the bill [in increasing numbers], it is traditional for the male to offer to pay for the whole thing.”
While Koyfman’s mostly right, we should note that people are sharply divided on this issue. In one 2018 survey from dating website Badoo, more than 60 percent of British women said they preferred to pay the bill on the first date. In contrast, a 2017 survey found that 78 percent of Americans believe men should pay for the first date.
There’s a bit of a gender disparity among Americans—85 percent of men believed that the bill is the man’s responsibility, while 72 percent of women said the same—but Americans seem to have stronger feelings about the custom than their British brethren.
5. Brits and Americans place different importance on meeting the family.
“While meeting the family is an important step in any relationship, for Americans, this tends to be a bigger, more significant milestone than for the British,” Koyfman says. “In the United States, it is more common to seek parental approval of a partner.”
“Therefore, introducing your date is a bigger step. In contrast, in the UK, meeting the family of your date tends to be a less formal event, as Brits often tend to care a little less about the opinions of their family.”
I know that introducing a guy you’re dating to your parents is a big deal and all…
But if you meet my dog just know THAT is when it’s really serious.
— Michelle (@michellepoole_) July 28, 2018
Once again, this is the type of thing that varies from family to family. We’re certainly not making the case that Brits don’t care about getting their parents’ approval altogether; the cultural norms are simply different.
6. The “cultural gap” probably isn’t as significant as you’d assume.
You might logically assume Brits have a tough time making conversation with their American dates (and vice-versa). After all, Brits think of The Office as a Ricky Gervais sitcom, while Americans think of Steve Carell—right?
“In general, British people have been raised with so much American culture that it becomes so familiar,” Graber says. “My husband was born and raised in the U.S., [while] I was born and raised in London, but we both grew up watching the same cartoons on Nickelodeon and listening to the same music as teenagers. America felt very different to me when I first came here, but also strangely familiar.”
Ultimately, the cultural differences are fairly minor in the grand scheme of things. We ask Graber whether Americans have a bad reputation among the British (and whether that reputation might affect their romantic prospects). Her answer: Sort of, but not really.
“I loved American culture growing up, and despite our grumbling about noisy Americans on the [subway], I think the average Brit still thinks that there’s something very glamorous about an American, which can be compelling when it comes to romance,” she says. “I can’t think of any boys back home that wouldn’t date an American girl just because she was American. Rather the opposite, actually.”
7. Americans do have one significant romantic advantage when dating abroad.
“Brits are still majorly attracted to an American accent,” Graber notes.
Of course, that effect works the other way around, too.
“My husband loves my accent and makes me recite Game of Thrones quotes at social events,” Graber says, “but I don’t have anything special that makes me different from an American girl. He says I’m elegant, which I think is a nice lie he just made up. He watches enough British reality TV with me to know that Brits don’t automatically equal elegance!”
With that said, Graber says she doesn’t see cultural differences as a major factor in her relationship. She appreciates her husband’s straightforward American style, but overall, she doesn’t see his nationality as important.
“There’s no BS [with him],” she says. “He gets to the point quickly and has a great sense of humor. Really, I think I would have fallen in love with him if he was from the moon. Love is love; it doesn’t matter where you’re from.”
We’ll swipe right for that sentiment any day.