Interesting and Unusual Dating Rituals
September 12, 2006 3:14 PM   Subscribe

RelationshipFilter: Tell me about dating rituals different from those in traditional Western culture.

I am giving a speech for Toastmasters on Friday about interesting and unusual dating rituals.

I can find information about intimate relationships in the US pretty easily (e.g.: Polygamy, Homosexual relationships, etc.), but I'm curious what else is going on in the world.

For example: I've heard about tribes in Africa that sew the female's genitals up until she is married. I'm looking for information that's not common knowledge.

If possible could you throw in the source of where you learned that information? And if you have any neat statistical facts (with a source) about relationships in the US or anywhere in the world, that would be greatly appreciated as well.

Thanks in advance!
posted by drkrdglo to Human Relations (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This will not go well.
posted by tula at 3:30 PM on September 12, 2006

Response by poster: Why do you say that?
posted by drkrdglo at 3:33 PM on September 12, 2006

Best answer: The practice you refer to is known by many names, "female genital mutilation" being the prevalent umbrella term in the west. It's also colloquially known as "female circumcision". It's practiced throughout the world (including the U.S.), and not just by Africans.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 3:34 PM on September 12, 2006

Why do you say that?

Because this will quickly devolve into an internet flamefest about genital mutilation, shoot off into a side argument about circumcision, and then skid to a halt with a chat about how ask.mefi has gone downhill recently.

this ethnographic look at flirting is kinda interesting.
posted by mecran01 at 3:38 PM on September 12, 2006

New Zealanders, Australians and the English do not "date". They drink and lunge.
posted by dydecker at 3:55 PM on September 12, 2006 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: "Research showed that for women, direct sexual approaches-dressing seductively, dancing close, staring into a man's eyes-worked well in leading to sexual contact."

that link you referred me to is the interesting kind of light-hearted stuff I'm looking for.

This speech was born out of the idea of my girlfriend and my two-year anniversary. To make light of our pretty-normal (by Western standards) relationship I want to enlighten people about the love lives of people around the world. I'm looking for information that I can use to have the audience walk out of the room with a grin on their face and a head full of interesting, previously unknown knowledge.

A better example would be: In Vietnam when men and women are married the man leaves his family to join the woman and her family (contrary to most societies where the woman leaves her family to join the man).
posted by drkrdglo at 3:57 PM on September 12, 2006

Best answer: "Dating" is a relatively modern innovation. In pretty much the entire world up to the 19th century, the vast majority of marriages were arranged, and the two people involved had little choice in the matter.

Dating, in the sense of individuals actively courting others, is something that became common as a side effect of the industrial revolution, primarily because of the development of the railroad and the steamship. Suddenly a lot of people were moving around and living a long way away from their clans, and arranged marriages were no longer as practical, so it became much more common for people to try to find their own mates.

Which means that I don't think you're going to find a lot of variety in dating practices from different cultures, because the idea of dating and cultural practices associated with it comes from a single source (northern Europe and America during the late 19th century) and because there hasn't really been long enough for it to differentiate in the other places where the practice spread to.

A lot of cultural practices associated with or caused by modern technology are pretty much the same everywhere in the world, differing only in minor details, e.g. telephone manners.

That said, here's my minor contribution: The Japanese borrowed the idea of Valentine's Day from the west, but they've changed it. On Valentine's Day, girls give chocolate to guys they like. A month later, on what's known as "White Day", boys give gifts (not necessarily chocolate) to girls they like.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:57 PM on September 12, 2006

Drkrdglo, if you consider FGM an "interesting dating ritual," you might also want to discuss the Roma custom described by Eve Ensler:
In certain Roma cultures ("gypsy" tribes), women are raped before their weddings by their future fathers-in-law to make certain they are virgins. Or, after the "honeymoon" with her husband, all the men in the tribe are allowed to rape her to make sure the groom has "done his duty."
posted by alms at 4:02 PM on September 12, 2006

Wrong again, Mr. Beste. On Valentine's Day in Japan, Japanese girls give chocolates to their bosses and male colleagues. On White Day, bosses and male workers give white chocolates or cookies to their secretaries or whoever gave it them something the month before.
posted by dydecker at 4:06 PM on September 12, 2006

The Japanese borrowed the idea of Valentine's Day from the west, but they've changed it. On Valentine's Day, girls give chocolate to guys they like. A month later, on what's known as "White Day", boys give gifts (not necessarily chocolate) to girls they like.

Steven C. Den Beste:
At the risk of sounding crude, we have a similar reciprocation to Valentine's Day that's growing popularity in the US (sort of): Steak and BJ Day on March 15th.

(Note: site has been down for a while, maybe Google will be of more help)
posted by toomanyplugs at 4:25 PM on September 12, 2006

Both of those Japanese Valentine's day scenarios are correct, actually. I say that as someone who has both given out the mushy handmade chocolates and given "giri-choko" to male superiors.
posted by Alison at 4:30 PM on September 12, 2006

In Palau, payment of a dowry is customary. To the bride's family. (Matrilinial society) ^
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 4:32 PM on September 12, 2006

What about the Omiai tradition in Japan? It is a formal introduction and dating practice where two single people are introduced as potential marriage partners. Parents and children will comb through pictures and résumés of potential mates with the help of a matchmaker before chosing who to meet. The custom is rarely practiced now, but the paperwork is usually quite impressive.
posted by Alison at 4:44 PM on September 12, 2006

I seem to remember from my high school Spanish class (twenty years ago, so things might have changed somewhat since then) that in Latin countries it was extremely uncommon to go out alone with another person on a casual basis. Instead you went out with mixed-sex groups of people about your own age at first. Only when you were fairly serious would you go out as a couple.
posted by kindall at 4:50 PM on September 12, 2006

The way things are done in the Trobriand Islands (or were when Malinowksi observed in the 20s) are pretty wacky from the Western point of view. IIRC, kids and teenagers will have sex rather freely, but eating a meal with someone--especially at home with their parents (some teenagers live in "bachelor huts") means you're really, really serious about them.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:03 PM on September 12, 2006

Apparently, in Kyrgyzstan, bridal kidnapping is quite common. See this article in the NYT (free reg. req.).

"Recent surveys suggest that the rate of abductions has steadily grown in the last 50 years and that at least a third of Kyrgyzstan's brides are now taken against their will."


"Kyrgyz men say they snatch women because it is easier than courtship and cheaper than paying the standard "bride price," which can be as much as $800 plus a cow."
posted by Emanuel at 5:47 PM on September 12, 2006

dydecker isn't joking, by the way.
posted by Jimbob at 5:58 PM on September 12, 2006

To expand, what kindall describes above for latin countries pretty much sums out "dating" in Australia / New Zealand for me, as well.

Asking some barely known person out for "dinner" is, in my personal experience, pretty weird, especially amoung us suburban plebs. You're much more likely to begin a relationship in a group setting, then start "going out" together once you're actually, you know, "going out".
posted by Jimbob at 6:02 PM on September 12, 2006

Shaka was one of the great leaders in African history. He's the one responsible for the Zulus becoming very powerful and widely respected. He reorganized Zulu society and made it very militaristic.

All young men had to serve in his army. All the men born in a particular year would serve together in the same impi (regiment) for the rest of their lives.

As to marriages, an entire impi would be married at one time, to girls rounded up by the monarch for the occasion, but only after the impi had proved itself in battle (which, quite naturally, gave the men in the impi a strong incentive to fight bravely). Men in married impis wore a large black ring woven into their hair.

In India, the introduction of ultrasound and safe legal abortion has led to a serious shortage of girl babies as parents deliberately select for boys, and preferentially abort girls. As a result, the traditional dowry system is beginning to be turned over. Instead of families with sons expecting to receive money/goods along with a girl for their sons to marry, they're beginning to offer "bride prices" to families with daughters.

Which is a classical example of Adam Smith's "invisible hand", don't you think? Whatever is short is also valuable. When demand outstrips supply, prices rise.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:05 PM on September 12, 2006

To expand on what Jimbob says.

He is dead right. In Australia dating is a newish thing and is still seen as being American and a bit odd.

It may be that in America where there is probably greater inter-city movement than in most other Western Countries people set up dating as a way to meet people in an agreed kind of neutral space.

In Australia, where if you grew up in Sydney, Melbourne or the other major cities you tended to stay in them. However this is changing and also the appearance of online dating is changing this.
posted by sien at 6:09 PM on September 12, 2006

Japan also has the dating tradition of "goukon" where two friends will gather together an equal number (usually 6-10 total people) of their single friends (guys from the guy, girls from the girl) and go out on what amounts to a group date. Sometimes the organizers are not single themselves, and sometimes the numbers get padded out with non-single people as well.
posted by nightchrome at 6:56 PM on September 12, 2006

Walt Kelly in "Li'l Abner" made up the tradition of Sadie Hawkins Day, wherein the unattached sister-women of Dogpatch could chase, capture, club and retrieve eligible males. If done successfully by sundown on the Saturday following September 9, the ensnared menfolk were honor-bound to matrimonize their captors.

Many American high schools now hold annual Sadie Hawkins Dances (girls' prerogative), all in honor of the spinster daughter of Hekzebiah Hawkins, who caught her man way back in '37.
posted by rob511 at 7:02 PM on September 12, 2006

Steven C. Den Beste: that's really interesting. Do you have any reccomendations on where to read more about that?
posted by gsteff at 8:26 PM on September 12, 2006

Sorry, I do not.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:16 PM on September 12, 2006

I lived in Mexico City 3 years ago. The rural areas may be more traditional, but the cities are much more modern (relevant because the greatest concentration of people in any given L. American country live in their capital city).

Latin American city-people are not much different than North American city-people dating-wise, except that the male always pays and the female always walks on the inside of the sidewalk.
posted by mynameismandab at 1:17 AM on September 14, 2006

Shanghainese women are regarded by other Chinese as extremely "practical" (现实; does Metafilter do other character sets yet?) and will not marry a guy unless he has owns his own house and a car. Shanghainese men do not expect to marry until they are 30 years old or so. Some say it's cultural, I say it's economic.

Chinese kids don't really date either. But they do experiment with sex, and move in before they're married if they're living away from home. And yes, it is still a "Communist" country.
posted by msittig at 2:10 AM on September 14, 2006

In Japan, there is a popular way for groups of unattached people to go out and spend time with one another: the gokon!

Essentially, what happens is 3 males and 3 females go out to an Izakaya (bar) and get a table (typically in a private room) and proceed to eat and drink and often sing karaoke, etc., for the rest of the night.

Typically, one of the males will arrange the gokon by contacting a female friend. The two then facilitate the meeting by bringing some new people that the other group may not be familiar with.

I have participated in a few, and the tension during them seems somewhat akin to a blind date. Lots of anxiety on both sides of the table, as both groups know that this is a ritual designed explicitly for dating/hookups.

What's interesting to me about this is that it sounds like something that might happen in Western culture: call up some girls, get some of your guy friends and go out for drinks. What's different, however, is that this seems to follow a pretty rigid set of behavior rules and is always done with three men and three women.

At least, this is my understanding of it.
posted by dead_ at 6:49 AM on September 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Living in Seattle for around five years now and having grown up in the South, I would say that "dating rituals" are pretty distinct and different even in the context of one country. Trying to date NW girls (frustrated sigh) is quite a different experience. At least it has been for me.
posted by Chickenjack at 9:13 AM on September 14, 2006

There's bundling.
posted by deborah at 11:06 AM on September 16, 2006

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