Parisian Living

“Le Flirting” in France: The Art of Seduction

by Paige Bradley Frost
Flirting in France is in the art of seduction, which can be about how you drink your cocktail, like this girl who is about to drink through a straw.Dave Bloom

Soon after arriving in Paris, I was approached by an older man at a cafe. With my blond hair and toothy grin, I was clearly a foreigner and at 29, a still-prime target. He asked if he could join me. “Actually, I am engaged,” I said, a fact I was very excited about just weeks after becoming betrothed.

But zees is nuh-sing in France,” he replied with a sly grin. Nothing? I was shocked.

Flirting in France, the art of seduction, is about knowing how to carry yourself, like this young woman who stands with her hand on her hip, talking to someone sat at a bistro table in Paris (left). Two young people lying down on a park bench side by side (right).Thomas Mueller / Celine Willard

I had, of course, heard how forward French men could be. Tales of infidelity in France are legendary and I naively assumed I had encountered a world-class lothario. But I knew nothing then about the French art of la seduction and how what might seem like a come-on to a young American can actually be a benign and entertaining part of the game of life à la Française.

Flirting in France, the art of seduction, is about becoming friends first, like this man and woman sat chatting on the banks of the River Seine in Paris.Kallie Brynn

I soon realized that flirting in France is central to the way men and women relate to each other. Good natured flirtation is expected and welcomed, assuming one follows the rules of discretion and good taste, bien sûr.

After nearly four years in Paris, here are a few things I’ve learned.

Flirting is fun: Men and women here view “le flirting” as a normal and deeply enjoyable part of daily life. It is a skill to be deployed in all situations – from casual supermarket encounters to exchanges with grumpy fonctionnaires – that can often assist in getting what you want. It can be as simple as holding eye contact for an extra beat or receiving a discreet nod of approval on the street. Much of it centers around light-hearted banter – the ability to engage in witty repartee and deliver a smart remark at just the right moment. Once mastered, the Parisian game of flirtation can be yet one more pleasure added to the day.

Flirting in France, the art of seduction, is about not being afraid to say hello to people you want to get to know, like this young girl in a red dress waving at a young man who's sat at a bar table outside on graffiti-ridden rue Desnoyez in Belleville, Paris.Gael Sagueton

The French admire beauty: French women work hard to look attractive and expect that men will notice (although they may or may not return their attention). Men, for their part, feel it’s their job to admire women and to express their appreciation – and not just to women under thirty. As one male French friend put it, “I meet eyes with a woman to acknowledge her beauty, whether it is present or past. If the look is returned, it may be appropriate to speak, but that is never taken for granted.”

Not just for singles: Single American men and women flirt at parties, bars and clubs (and online and via text, so I’ve heard.) Married people do not flirt at all unless they’re scumbags who routinely cheat (or want to cheat) on their spouses, right?

Flirting in France, the art of seduction, is about not being afraid to look the other person in the eye, like this young woman holding a glass up to her lips and looking right at the camera.Dave Bloom

Not so in Paris. At a dinner party a few years ago, I watched a French friend flirt openly with my husband. We were seated with a large group and all enjoying multiple verres de vin. I watched (glared?) across the table as she laughed at his jokes, touched his arm, even talked about how “beau” he is. Hmm.

Being a loyal gentleman (often unaware of his own charms), he was flattered by her attention but claimed not to really notice. “Flirting with me?” he said when we got home. “No waaaay….” It was only later, after coming to understand the French, that I realized her gestures were quite harmless – a normal part of male/female rapport.

Flirting in France, the art of seduction, is about not being afraid to go out alone and talk to people you don't know, like this girl standing with her back to the camera while people are coupling off around her.Dave Bloom

As time goes on, I figure, why not enjoy a little attention and appreciation from a stranger? That little frisson of pleasure that comes from a playful exchange can enhance the joy of daily life and even add a spark to your own relationship.

Provided it doesn’t go too far (unless that’s the point, of course) I say, vive le flirting. As a French friend explained it, “The French are always trying to seduce everyone. It’s just for ‘le fun!'”


Written By

Paige Bradley Frost

Paige Bradley Frost, a Los Angeles native, moved back to Paris with her young family in 2011 after first living and getting married there in 2000. A lover of French style and cuisine, she spends her days scouting and writing about the city's gems when not chasing after her two young children. Her articles about parenting, culture and lifestyle have appeared on, the Huffington Post and various other publications. She blogs about her Paris experiences at View Paige Bradley Frost's Website

23 comments on ““Le Flirting” in France: The Art of Seduction

I know this is an old post, but I would like to add to it:

I figure that cultural differences should be respected, for example if someone from say America is living or visiting in France then acceptance (which is respect) of the relationship culture in France is a must.

Also, if someone from France is living or visiting in America then also acceptance of the relationship culture (respect) is a must.

Unless you might want to get into a fight and from what I have seen cat fights including pulling clumps of hair out of the other woman’s head that is flirting or otherwise with her guy is an option ha ha. Probably not the most mature thing to do but I have seen it and it’s in part of the culture.

Obviously we know that kissing on the cheek isn’t done in America. So these small simple things start to add up when it is misunderstood.

I have seen many English flirt with another person in front of their married partner but this was only done when the married couple was in the process of secretly divorcing anyway, so both people could care less and is a sign of true disrespect toward each other.

I believe this relationship culture respect also implies to men as well, I am English. A French guy and me did not get along because of the differences of relationship culture, he was visiting my country and didn’t go by our dating rules, in which case I thought he was rude. Because of this, I unintentionally ended up hurting him without even knowing it at the time. I think that when a person visits or lives in another country different from their own, understanding the relationship culture will make it where both people are on the same playing field.

Some times it is not even a country that is so different but within a country there can be various dating cultures, an example is Canada. Where I imagine the province of Quebec’s relationship culture, is a lot different then say the Province of British Columbia relationship culture.

The reason why I believe that it matter’s where you are located, is because this is what is accepted in the general society of where the person is living or visiting, if it is not accepted it can raise eyebrows and even create a reputation for the person involved, dependent on the culture. What seems harmless in one country may not be so harmless in another. What is generally accepted and made to be a big deal, may raise eye brows by others.

If anyone cannot accept the relationship culture of that country, then perhaps not living or visiting is an option.

I don’t agree with French women flirting with my boyfriend because 1) how am I supposed to know when the line is being crossed? Yes my boyfriend can tell the woman she’s going too far, but its the sheer fact that I wouldn’t know when the line is being crossed because I do not speak the same language. I am learning French so I can understand some things, I don’t know how I managed to understand the conversation with my boyfriend and cousin, but I understood 100%. She tried this with my boyfriend and I had to ask her to come outside so I could speak to her and told her to stop speaking in French and flirting with my man, (she can speak English) otherwise things won’t go so well with her if she continued. (her body language, eye contact and flirtatious speaking in French was obvious) Her response was that English people take things too seriously and that flirting doesn’t mean that she wants to sleep with my boyfriend. Well I’m sure she has that in mind but you just don’t know what’s going through someone’s mind. In the end I told her she’s not in her country, and that she should fuck off back to her own to “le flirt” with her French men. She wasn’t happy but she couldn’t argue with me because she was in MY HOUSE. if she was apologetic I wouldn’t of been angry but the fact that she saw nothing wrong with it even when I alerted her pissed me off. My boyfriend told me that my cousin saw me as being the rude person because I was aggressive with her, but he understood why I was that way with her. He said there are rules in France and that she would never try to sleep with me because she’s my family…LIKE PEOPLE DON’T DO THAT SORT OF THING? Keep your hands and eyes to yourself thanks!

Mme Zimmie and Courtney – two very beautiful replies 🙂
Kiki (female)
[stating this as thought Courtney was a woman until I started reading and also because I am often addressed as a HE by people who don’t know me personally]

Thank you, Paige. I enjoyed this information. I am a Texan male, and struggle with the “beat her over the head” style of flirtation I was raised in. I desire finesse, in myself and the subject of my attention. It is nice to see there is a group of fellow humans that can go through their day appreciating not only the physical beauty and the social stimulation, but also the right of each individual to choose how far the interaction will go. And regardless of how far it goes, the most important part was that the results of the simple original “flirt” (the first action to acknowledge each others awareness of each other) is worth it, in itself. What an evolved group, compared to where I come from.

As an American in France, I have to say that I’m not now, nor have I ever been bothered by the flirtatious nature which seems to pervade the society. The way I see it, my husband is only mine because he chooses to be so. If I had to guard him that closely, then it would seem to me that there was a foundational problem afoot. Conversely, the last person I would be concerned about “stealing” him would be my best friend. If I ever pondered such a notion, she certainly wouldn’t be my ‘best’, let alone my friend. Lastly, the concept of “stealing”, (precisely why I’ve put it in quotes…). We’re talking France here. It is highly unlikely that anyone we’re referencing is being “stolen”. If they go- methinks it was by choice, and not likely a forced coercion by some French femme-fatale. Naturally, this is only my opinion, and I am a stranger in a strange land- so please take with a grain of salt. Kasia- I’ve just ordered the book, based on your recommendation.
Best to you all!

love this post! as a californian in paris, i can definitely appreciate the amount of awkwardness felt during one of those forward french man situations – it’s just not quite the same at home. but, it does have some advantages…having a bad hair day or hate your outfit? a little “bonjour” can always put a smile on your face. “yes girl, you’ve still got it!”

Clearly a subject many of us feel passionate about! I based my observations in this post on my own experiences. Of course we all know exceptions to every rule and they no doubt exist in every culture! As I wrote in the post, flirting can be fun as long as we follow the rules of discretion and good taste. Thanks!

Knowing an American in Paris married to a Frenchman in the throws of an ugly divorce*—she’s preparing to leave and never to set foot in France again if she can help it—I can tell you that she, like you, naively thought that this flirting, arm touching etc. etc. was just for “le fun,” right? WRONG. You don’t want to learn the hard way that the real “challenge” for a French woman is the thrill of the chase: if the target is already committed to another, and especially if they’re in love – “le fun” stakes go way up. They soar if she’s a) pretty and b) a foreigner. Swedes, Danes, Russians – they’re challenging too, but it is the American woman who really gets their blood going – we’re just a little too confident and free spirited for their smoking tight-asses and by God they’re going to make sure that smile is wiped off our faces. Harmless? Non. The men may play for fun but French women play for keeps.

* adultery in France is a “faute” grounds for divorce–Yet ask any French person and they’ll say that’s “ridicule!”

The latest of this morning! Went to our local market where I chatted with ‚my‘ flower lady for a church decoration. Arrives a good looking man in his late forties, goes behind the ‘counter’, kisses the woman, charming, smiling, friendly, not taking any notice of us customers.
After 30’’ I join in the banter, we discuss his recent haircut, and then the guy says that ‘now I have already seen and visited all my girl friends’…. He asks the seller to put away 3 orchid plants, all with no thought of having interrupted another transaction and certainly with no second thought about the flirting bit.
It’s all very natural – he came, kissed and left (not)!
I said to the woman; OK I think I shall pay now, I have other things to do and again, very naturally, the man steps back and ‘now’ waits his tour for his payment and some more flirting. There was NOTHING more in this short exchange than having a relaxed moment, no husband/wife thievery – it’s just a lovely sunny day and let’s make light of it!
And now I won’t add any more comments to this burning theme 🙂

It can be harmless and is part of life with a lot of Europeans. It is charming and shows appreciation for the opposite sex. You do not need to take it seriously at all. Even the English do it. I know, I have relatives there. Lighten up and enjoy it. It is not meant to go that far!

In fact, American women do not have a good rep in Europe because they are often thought of as husband stealers. A bit judgmental; but the divorce rate here is high, you must admit.

Anyone have a favorite flirting story to share? Or maybe a tip on how to be a better flirt a la Parisienne? I know for me, it’s an on-going education. Thanks for your comments!

This seems to be a theme of some interest… 🙂

As I am subscribed to getting the comments, I just wanted to add that usually, in order to any interaction leading to another, there has to be a ‘readiness’ on both sides. It’s also what I often feel about break-ups amongst people I know; you can ‘only’ fall for somebody else, when you’re not totally content (call it happy, fulfilled, whatever) in your present relationship.

I do believe that a light flirt IS harmless and everybody concerned knows that you have any other intentions than sharing a few compliments, a laugh and a feel-good moment.
Don’t we ALL crave some nice words from others, a compliment, a smile, an admiring look? Come on, be honest – you do too!

Mrs. Châtelaine in Paris

So funny — I have so many memories of feeling like prey for some random French man. Unless Olivier Martinez is up for it, I’m gone! 😉


Looks like we’re in agreement that flirting can be fun!

Linda, I will say you’re not the first to tell me that perhaps the friend who flirted with my husband had more in mind than simple flirting…In any event, it’s certainly part of life here and as with everything in France, it’s best to know “the rules!”

I have to disagree that a French woman flirting with your boyfriend or husband is harmless. I learned quite a while ago to not trust French women around my man. They will go after him if they can. It’s not uncommon for a woman to “take” the boyfriend of her best friend. I agree that it is a nice feeling to be flirted with by French men and have often felt “maybe I’m not so bad after all!”.

This art of ‘harmless flirting’ in France is certainly part of the culture. (It makes us Americans look a bit prudish!)

If you desire more insights into why this goes on to this degree, I highly recommend the book ‘La Seduction’ by Elaine Sciolino. VERY eye-opening!

so true… 🙂 I’m a bit of a casual flirter too but I would never go any further than just that; be kind, be nice, smile, crack a joke, and go on, living your own life. Hero Husband knows this side of me and doesn’t object because it is harmless and if men don’t get the lightness of it, I am VERY quick to put things right.

The timing of this article couldn’t be more perfect. I got to Paris a few months ago and am living with my French boyfriend. This weekend a pretty woman paused by our table while we were en terrasse (she was with friends), said something casual directed at my boyfriend while she rifled through her purse at the next table maybe looking for keys, and then sashayed on. He told me she’d been looking at him before when he walked by her table. I said “French women aren’t that forward, are they?” and he responded that they enjoy a challenge. It bothered me because I was right there and, frankly, because she was a leggy, stylish Parisian woman. But in the end I convinced myself that it was nothing, just a cultural gap between Americans and the French that I will cross with time!

I for one think that flirting can keep you youthful and interesting!! The French have this down, and it is harmless, and makes the other person feel good about themselves as well!


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