One Traveling Man’s Weak-Dollar Dating Survival Kit

Speaker's Corner: With superior dentistry and monolingual charm, you too can pick up women overseas. Rolf Potts gets all Maxim magazine.

02.13.09 | 10:09 AM ET

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Travel to distant cities has always carried a whiff of romance for American men. Separated from the dull restrictions and routines and workaday life, we can embrace the spontaneity of each moment, express ourselves more passionately, and (let’s face it) hook up with the kind of women who’d never go for us back home.

Though at a certain level we’ve been able to woo these exotic beauties through our distinctively American charms (optimism and good humor, superior dentistry and an endearing inability to grasp the local language), paying our way in dollars certainly hasn’t hurt our romantic odds. Until now.

Indeed, with the euro and the pound pounding the greenback, traveling with a full wallet just isn’t as sexy as it used to be. Fortunately, this doesn’t mean we have to condemn our romantic ambitions to the corner pub back home. With a little bit of local knowledge and romantic savvy, it’s still possible to woo women within most any urban economy. 

This in mind, here’s some weak-dollar romantic advice for American men in four great world cities:

Paris

Why it’s a good city for meeting women: The most beautiful homely women in the world live here.

Put your average Parisienne in a police lineup, dressed in a ball cap and sweatpants, and you wouldn’t find her all that remarkable. Perch her atop a bicycle in a sundress along Boulevard St. Germain on a warm spring day, however, and you’ll swear she’s a knockout. Poise and attitude count extra in Paris, and French women carry themselves through the world with a rapturous sense of confidence. 

Cultural catch-phrase to keep in mind: Cinq a sept.

Literally “five to seven,” this refers to the time of day when married French people can rendezvous with their lovers and blame it on “extra work” at the office. What this means is that you’re not just competing against the cÃ(c)libataires in Paris—you’re also competing with married guys for the attentions of local women. In short, everyone is fair game in a town where even elderly men and women check each other out on the street—and if you aren’t being romantically bold in Paris, you won’t be keeping up.

Tip to remember: You can’t really win, so just be your cowboy self.

If Gallic attitude makes French women more beautiful, be warned that it also makes them more difficult. Even if you’ve been practicing your French verbs since the 8th grade, odds are a typical Paris femme will find your American accent contemptibly ridiculous. Moreover, you may be a whiz behind the mesquite grill back home, but you still don’t cook as well as her little brother—and even your clever references to Baudrillard and Foucault will only merit a dismissive wave of her hand. Leave the Parisian affectations to the moody French man-waifs who live there, and just be your beefy, boorish American self. The French delight in simulacra, so the right amount of drawled English, baseball talk and firearms knowledge should be enough to make a Paris lass swoon (or at least slum it with you for a night or two—if only to confirm her prejudices about how rough and unsophisticated you are).

Rio de Janeiro

Why it’s a good city for meeting women: Rio is where Sao Paolo women go on holiday.

Brazil’s iconic beach-lined cityscape might have a reputation for beautiful bodies in teeny bikinis, but the Rio girls aren’t the real attraction here. To be sure, Cariocas are every bit as stunning in their “dental floss” as you might imagine, but the real catch along the shores of Rio are the cosmopolitan lovelies visiting on holiday from Sao Paulo, Brazil’s booming commerce capital (less than an hour away by plane). Not only are Paulistas every bit as attractive as their Carioca counterparts—they also speak great English and have interests that go beyond the beach.

Cultural catch-phrase to keep in mind: Ficar.

Body language is a manifestation of culture anywhere in the world, but nowhere is personal space less of an inhibiting factor than in Brazil. Americans might consider it shockingly forward to lean in for a kiss 10 minutes after meeting a woman in a nightclub, but in Rio it’s simply the polite thing to do (she knows you want to kiss her, and she wouldn’t still be talking to you if she didn’t want to kiss you back). Ficar literally means “to stay,” but its meaning is more like “to play”—casually making-out because, let’s be honest here, it beats the hell out of idle chit-chat in a noisy nightclub. Keep in mind that a quick ficar session doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting to second base any sooner than back home; it’s just a legitimate and enjoyable way to pass time on a warm Rio evening.

Tip to remember: Don’t try to pick up Brazilian girls on the beach.

A walk along the sands of Ipanema might rekindle your worshipful reverence for the female form, but that doesn’t mean you should swagger up to random sunbather vixens and ask them if they’re Capricorn or Sagittarius. In Rio, the beach is sacred territory, and trying to pick up a sun-worshipping hottie is as intrusive (and ineffective) as attempting to woo women in the middle of a church service. Save the beach for recreation, and take your romantic ambitions to the budding nightlife district of Lapa near the city center. Here, the bars and nightclubs spill out onto the streets, infusing the whole neighborhood with an ebullient block-party vibe.

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Columnist Rolf Potts is the author of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, and Marco Polo Didn't Go There: Stories and Revelations From One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer. His stories have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, the New York Times Magazine and Conde Nast Traveler, as well as in “The Best American Travel Writing.”


8 Comments for One Traveling Man’s Weak-Dollar Dating Survival Kit

Jeff Daniels 02.13.09 | 3:31 PM ET

Fantastic article!

Always something great from World Hum
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmrfS5-RbC0

pam 02.16.09 | 11:23 AM ET

Awesome. A guide to collecting women like souvenirs.  With the conclusion that paying attention to women as humans will work great until the dollar is strong enough to go back to just buying them again.

While we’re throwing around cliches, I’m okay with being labeled a humorless feminist on this one.

<Sigh.>

Aaron 02.17.09 | 11:28 AM ET

Pam, you´re being a humorless feminist.

I do like Potts writing. it´s quality

Karen 02.19.09 | 5:59 PM ET

Pam, I too was somewhat uncomfortable with the angle of this article at first, but I think it was meant slightly tongue-in-cheek. And Rolf does mention on a couple of occasions how he appreciates a brain alongside physical beauty. And he had the guts to admit that meeting (and getting busy with) exotic foreigners is one of the big perks of travel. For men AND women. (What woman isn’t going to keep her eyes open for a sultry hunk while in Israel or Argentina or Iceland). Anyway, you can always rely on Rolf to infuse a little testosterone into his writing.

Lindsey 02.23.09 | 4:53 PM ET

Guys don’t change. Be it over seas or across the way. You must embrace the one track mind ladies and go with.

Besides, if guys were as complicated as women we’d all be in serious trouble.

This article was written at least with tact. Just imagine the guy to guy conversations about this same topic.

Rolf 02.25.09 | 4:40 PM ET

Thanks for the comments, everyone.  Karen makes a good observation—this is at heart a tongue-in-cheek riff on how cross-cultural travel can make you more attractive to the opposite sex (and how specific cultural knowledge can enhance your newly found attractiveness).  Women enjoy the same perks when they travel, and no doubt one could write a female equivalent about Rome or Havana or wherever it is American women romance men who would be out of their league back home. 

Travel writer Tim Cahill has good-naturedly noted how romance is a common reason why people of both genders enjoy traveling, yet folks get bent out of shape when men try to write about it.  Entire literary anthologies are given over to women’s cross-cultural travel-romances, Cahill notes, while men attempting to write on the same theme get painted as exploiters. 

My essay is a humorous attempt to show how romance can be a travel-motivator for men, too.  Strip away the satire and hyperbole, and it isn’t an essay about tricking helpless women into sleeping with you (or “collecting women like souvenirs”): It’s about how mindful travel can make you smart and savvy enough to be attractive to attractive, smart, savvy women.

Karen 02.25.09 | 5:39 PM ET

I think the reason that some women take offense at men’s writings about “foreign affairs” is because more often than not they seem interested in sexual conquests, whereas women tend to be looking for romance and relationships. Think about Kohnstamm and Thompson, who spend pages and pages droning on about their shallow flings with hot flight attendants or Brazilian hookers or Thai bar girls or whatever.

Polly-Vous Francais 03.09.09 | 5:39 AM ET

Fun article. 

I do think, though, that French people actually find American accents “charming.”  A Frenchman at a dinner party in Paris told me I shouldn’t try to speak French without an accent—“a leetle American accent, c’est plus sexy,” he said. 

And go ahead and be beefy-American, yes.  But boorish?  Non.  Forget Foucault, but charm and good manners (help with her coat, hold doors open, etc.) are still the way to go.

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