The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

In honor of Valentine’s Day, top 10 travel and expat posts on finding love abroad

My mother used to disapprove of Valentine’s Day. Although she would indulge our need to cut out elaborate paper valentines and bake heart cookies, she always made sure my sisters and I knew what she thought — that it was a fabricated consumer holiday for boosting sales during the winter doldrums.

Despite her remonstrations, I always used to look forward to February 14 — even (especially!) when living outside the United States.

For a start, they have much better chocolate abroad. Plus you get to try new foods that other cultures find seductive — see Kate Allison’s scrumptious post of a couple of days ago.

And your idea of what constitutes romantic adventure changes, too, as you expand your visual repertoire to include the world’s most stunning settings. Indeed, why not pop the question as the sun sets over the City Palace and Lake Pichola in India’s Land of the Kings? (For this and nine other exotic locations for marriage proposals, see Annie Fitzsimmons’ recent article for Forbes.)

In that connection, I was distressed to learn that couples who are thinking of heading to Venice, that magical city of watery landscapes, for a Valentine’s escape may need tips from Guardian Travel on how to avoid feeling ripped off. From the sound of things, it may be safer, and perhaps a good deal more enjoyable, to stay at home and watch The Tourist

But let’s leave the film discussion for later in the month, when we’ll be doing a series of posts in honor of the Oscars. Right now we’re honoring Valentine’s Day, and I’m urging you all to get into the Valentine’s spirit. To aid you in that aim,  I’ve compiled a list of 10 online articles that address the specific needs of those who are looking for romance abroad. As usual, and as befits our blog’s slightly irreverent tone, they’re from a mix of indie and conventional publications.

Click on any or all categories that apply:

Stories of love on the road

In addition to the story told by TDN’s own Tony James Slater of his own love affair — which sparked off no end of wonderful romantic tales in the comments — I enjoyed these two posts:

1) Modern Love — A Place to Lay My Heart (8 January 2012)
Author: Elisabeth Eaves (@ElisabethEaves)
Publication: New York Times, Sunday Style section (@nytimes)
Synopsis: Two single journalists in their 30s meet up in Mexico to write about tequila. At first, romance seems off the table. Both are commitment phobes: they see travel as their first love and like nothing better than plunging into a foreign culture. But then…something happens, and for the first time, instead of opting for a distance relationship, they take the leap. (Tequila will be served at the wedding.)

2) 10 Reasons Why You Should Marry a Foreigner (Like I Did) (Archived: 10 November 2010)
Author: Corey Heller (@MultiLingLiving)
Publication: Multilingual Living blog
Synopsis: Chances are, if you spend a lot of time abroad, you may end up marrying, God forbid, a foreigner! Hey, it’s not the worst thing that can happen. Some of us have done it multiple times and lived to tell the story. Still others, such as this week’s Random Nomad, Toni Hargis, fell for a foreigner in their home countries and followed him/her abroad. Heller, who met her husband in Ireland (he trailed her back to the US), lists her own ten reasons for committing such a foolhardy act — everything from his “glorious accent” to her enjoyment of a challenge to the fact that he is her true love (now fancy that!). Actually, the one that sticks with me is #3: being a German (no, he’s not Irish), he craves good chocolate just as much as she does! (But perhaps that says more about me than it does about them?)

The practicalities of dating abroad

If you do decide to make someone you meet in another culture the object of your affections, there may still be some practical concerns. These four posts should help you finesse these sometimes awkward moments:

3) Dating expectations worldwide: Who pays? (4 February 2011)
Author: C. Noah Pelletier (@flyingknuckle)
Publication: Matador Network (@matadornetwork)
Synopsis: From Pelletier’s unofficial survey of dating etiquette across nine cultures, we learn that German men excel at subtle flirting whereas Turks are much more direct; French don’t really “date”; Mexican men wear clean suits; and Japanese are into group dating. But on the all-important question of “who pays,” all nations are in agreement: THE MAN!!!

4) Don’t pull out the chair — but do hold open the door! (Archived: 26 October 2011)
Author: Tanja from Germany
Publication: InterNations blog (@InterNationsorg)
Synopsis: Notably, one of Tanja’s top concerns is:

Who pays for the meal? Does one split the bill, or does he expect to pay — or even worse, must I pay?!

Too bad Noah Pelletier’s post for the Matador Network wasn’t yet available for Tanja’s perusal (see #3 above), or she needn’t have fretted — especially as it’s Mexico, where men have been known to TAKE OFFENSE if a woman offers to pay. Also, she might not have been surprised when she received more flowers on first dates in Mexico than in her entire life in Germany. Still, Tanja’s story (which ends very happily) is a tribute to the power of persistence and the efficacy of muddling one’s way through. Just one thing I’m still not clear on: do Mexican men expect you to open the door for them, rather like Japanese men expecting you to let them exit the elevator first? (See her post title.)

5) Ten Foreign Words for a Romantic Valentine’s Day (9 February 2012)
Author: Justine Ickes (@justineickes)
Publication: Culture Every Day blog
Synopsis: So as not to be totally culturally clueless, it’s important to master a few other romantic terms/concepts. In Japan, for instance, if you hear someone say bakushan as they look you in the face, then they’re probably not a romantic prospect. The expression is used when you think someone looks cuter from behind! (If, on the other hand, you hear the word kawaii, things may be looking up!)

6) Sex when traveling: location, location, location (29 January 2012)
Author: Laurence Norah (@lozula)
Publication: Finding the universe blog
Synopsis: Norah illustrates (literally — yet tastefully, I hasten to add) various options that travelers have for “getting jiggy on the road”: dorm rooms, tents, showers, beaches, backs of camper vans, and (best of all!) private rooms.

Lonely hearts in foreign lands

When all the world is going gaga for romantic love, it can be lonely if you’re not doing so well in that department, particularly if you’re already feeling isolated because of being so far away from your homeland. The following four posts should help with that predicament:

7) 8 Empowering Ways a Traveling Single Female Should Celebrate Valentines Day (Archived: 13 February 2011)
Author: Lainie Liberti (@ilainie)
Publication: Raising Miro blog
Synopsis: From LA, Laine has been traveling with her son, Miro, since 2009 in search of a simpler life. When still in the States, spending Valentine’s Day on her own was no big deal:

it was easy to ignore the day all together or grab a group of my amazing single girl friends and have an AbFab marathon complete with bottomless cosmos.

But what about now that she’s on the road? Though the post is a year old, her suggestions — some aimed at those who enjoy solitude (movies, nature, dinner-in for one), and others, at those who would prefer being with people (volunteering, meet-ups) — won’t go out of style any time soon, and are good for any day of the year.

8) Help! Nobody Wants to Date Me! (Archived: 15 December 2011)
Author: Chris Laub (@Travel_rtw)
Publication: Backpacker Savings blog
Synopsis: Chris claims he’s “undateable” because of his need to spend almost half of the year traveling. He’s not proud of that fact:

The truth is I want to be in relationship, but my deeper desire to travel and have fun makes it seemingly impossible.

Still, the travel addict’s life does have its compensations. He’s moving to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, leaving him free to hook up with a Brazilian woman. As he sees it:

…running around chasing women in exotic countries and enjoying no-strings-attached travel romances isn’t a bad alternative

– though methinks he doth protest too much!

9) Offbeat Traveler: Unromantic places around the world (6 February 2012)
Author: Jason La
Publication: Los Angeles Times travel section (@latimestravel)
Synopsis: Kissing a well-kissed stone in Ireland, encountering the venomous Komodo dragon in Indonesia, peering into the Gates of Hell in northern Turkmenistan — after such experiences, being wounded by Cupid’s arrow may seem like light relief. (In addition to his seven unromantic suggestions, La thoughtfully provides a link to the LA Times‘s post on 10 romantic cities, in case you get lucky at some point! Chris — see #8 above — may be in with a chance: Rio is on the list. Venice, however, doesn’t make it — not even as a “dishonorable mention.”)

10) Valentine’s Day — the perfect holiday for one (4 February 2012)
Author: Amy Chavez (@JapanLite)
Publication: The Japan Times (@japantimes)
Synopsis: On Valentine’s Day in Japan, the custom is for men to get showered in chocolates by women — women have to hold out for “White Day” when men allegedly return to the favor. But as Chavez points out in her Japan Times column, Japanese women tend to buy just as much chocolate for themselves as they do for the guys, while also indulging themselves with a Hello Kitty trinket or two. I believe that Chavez intends the title of her column — “the perfect holiday for one” — to sound ironic as she finds the Japanese interpretation of Valentine’s Day a little twisted. Perhaps I lived in Japan too long, but I don’t agree. Or maybe it is twisted, but I can hardly blame the Japanese for that. (The other day I noticed that an Asian publication was carrying a story about how the Bronx Zoo encourages people to pay money to give their sweetheart’s name to one of its Madagascar hissing cockroaches, in time for Valentine’s day. After being bombarded with information like this, is it any wonder that Asian women would prefer to buy their own Valentine’s gifts?) What’s more, all women (and not just those who are single) stand to learn a lot from our Japanese sisters: 1) if you can’t rely on the men, then eat chocolate; and 2) never mind diamonds, Hello Kitty charms are a girl’s best friend!

Bonus feature: “Valentine’s Day and the displaced life”

Living abroad can have other benefits besides finding your perfect mate. It can also help you adopt a more expansive vision of life’s rich tapestry and where “love” fits in. To take but one example, the Sufi notion of love entails falling in love with ideal attributes rather than particular people — which, as Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol points out in his article “The Shariah of Love”, leads to a great deal less heartache than Western “romantic love.” (Hmmm…the idea that love shouldn’t hurt — how novel!)

Another potential benefit of the displaced life is the joy in discovering what it feels like to love an actual place, as was the case for British journalist Jane Alexander when she visited Jerusalem. Despite not being religious, she fell smack dab in love with the city and all it stands for:

Love. Total overwhelming Love. Unconditional love that sweeps away all prejudice, all difference, all wanting, all needing, all sense of I, of ego.

Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? And no need to worry if it’s unrequited…

What’s more, travel can also open your mind to rebooting Valentine’s Day itself. This year Causes.com is on a mission to rename it as Generosity Day, and I noticed just now that one of the causes we featured on this blog during Global Philanthropy Month, Free the Children, is asking for donations to empower Kenyan women in bee-keeping businesses. “Bee my Valentine!” sounds a great deal less corny when you know it’s for the sake of others on the globe whose lives are less fortunate…

Come to think of it, could my mother have been right about Valentine’s Day being overly commercial? Best to make that up to her on Mother’s Day — except she doesn’t believe in that either! :(

* * *

Question: Can you suggest any other posts that should have made the list?

STAY TUNED for Monday’s post, when Tony James Slater, who is rapidly becoming our in-house expert on searching for love in foreign lands, takes up the timely topic of transcending language barriers with potential partners.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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9 responses to “In honor of Valentine’s Day, top 10 travel and expat posts on finding love abroad

  1. Kate Allison February 10, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    ML, my children will testify that I’m completely with your mother on this. The ludicrousness of buying a 32-pack of postage-stamp-sized cards so that every child in second grade can have a card and not feel left out, despite your own second grader telling you heatedly that he/she doesn’t like X and Y and doesn’t *want* to give them a card (second graders rarely know the word ‘hypocritical’ but this is an ideal time to introduce them to it)…and later, the child’s rooting through a brown paper bag at the end of Valentine’s Day, finding pencils, erasers, heart shaped candy, then casually discarding 22 valentines with pictures of Rugrats on them…

    Yuck.

    Give me the British tradition of anonymous cards in the mail from secret admirers. Any day.

    • ML Awanohara February 11, 2012 at 12:19 am

      @Kate
      I hadn’t realized that Valentine’s Day had become such a big production for American schoolkids, but I guess it shouldn’t surprise me. In that sense, my mother was prescient.

      And you just reminded me of something — England was the first place where I received a Valentine’s card signed with a ?. I loved it! Hmmm… Was that why I never looked back on American men? I wonder…

  2. Wendy Tokunaga February 10, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    I *do* find the Japanese version of Valentine’s Day twisted, she said with affection. LOL

  3. Tony James Slater February 11, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    I was a particular fan of the article on places to ‘get jiggy wid it’ whilst on the road – having been on one end or the other of most of them! There are few things worse that trying to sleep after a hard day’s graft, only to realise that there’s a couple in the bunk above you and they’re about to get it on… ah, the memories!
    And don’t get me started on sand…
    It. Gets. EVERYWHERE!

    • ML Awanohara February 13, 2012 at 2:50 pm

      @TJS
      Why am I not surprised at post #6 being your fave? But you make a good point — about how a person can end up on the other end of that, being in the bunk above the couple that’s about to get jiggy. Should we ask Laurence Noah to illustrate that one as well?! Hahaha

  4. Pingback: Valentine Moos on Japan from Twitter:yakuza, gyoza and the Mt. Fuji 100-mile marathon « Humor-Us Guide to Japan

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