“I love your accent, Chocolate Boy” and other tales of dating as a foreigner in San Diego
Turns out Americans love a foreign accent. But an interest in different cultural experiences? Not so much.
Valentine’s Day is this Monday. Regardless of how you feel about the Hallmark-invented holiday, it’s hard not to assess/dwell on/mourn the romance—or lack thereof—in our lives.
In this special guest post by comedian/journalist Ombretta Di Dio (you might have seen her writing in AWKSD before), she explores the hardships of trying to find love as a foreigner in the U.S.A. I hope you enjoy. - Ryan
Natalie Osborn was sitting on a bed, in a bare, brightly lit room—a massage table in one corner, an empty desk in another, a simple dresser and a laptop to fill the space—when the thought occurred to her:
“I am going to get murdered tonight. I need to leave right now.”
Her date, a man she had met online, lived in the same apartment complex as she did, but thankfully, she would never run into him again after that first, peculiar encounter.
The guy had invited her over under the premise of watching a movie together, but he had spent the following hour browsing through conspiracy theory videos about aliens on YouTube before offering her a massage. That’s when she knew the date was over.
Osborn, a 32-year-old civil engineer who was born and raised in Wollongong, Australia, moved to San Diego in July 2017.
What she describes as the worst date of her life would only be one in a string of bizarre hangouts that spanned across four years and eventually led to one long-term boyfriend, Ryan.
Ryan is American, but she didn’t meet him online, Osborn tells me.
“It happened in the real world,” Osborn says. “And I gave him such a hard time at first, just because, by then, I had such high expectations about how I wanted to be treated.”
By the time Ryan arrived, putting a much needed halt to her dating curse, Osborn says she thought she was going to die alone.
“At first, dating in San Diego was fun,” Osborn says. “I enjoyed trying new restaurants and going out with different people. But the novelty wore off after a couple of years.”
Mostly, Osborn found that, while men were quickly attracted to her and eager to find out where her accent was from, they just as quickly lost interest in her story after the first date.
Ghosting—a term used to describe the act of suddenly cutting all contact with a person one previously showed interest in—often followed.
“It was always, ‘I’m gonna guess where you are from,’” Osborn says. “And it was always the wrong country: either South Africa or England, but they never asked anything beyond that.”
Osborn’s parents had their own theory about why American men never seemed interested in her cultural background.
“They [my parents] call it toxic patriotism,” Osborn says. “If America is the best, why should they worry about other countries?”
Dr. Jennifer Pfeuffer, a clinical psychologist based out of San Diego, says America’s reputation might play a role in why Americans are attracted to foreigners but don’t stick around them.
“From a cultural standpoint, America has been known as the nation of bigger, better, faster, immediate gratification, and this mentality can sometimes be applied to dating,” Pfeuffer says. “There is a human tendency to desire the best and newest that our society has to offer. With so many online dating apps, the pool for potential mates is now more diverse and accessible than ever.”
“While swiping right or left can be enjoyable as we narrow our search, it is also human nature to return to the familiar,” Pfeuffer continues. “This can mean seeking out a partner within our community, which oftentimes equates to similar socioeconomic and ethnic/racial backgrounds.”
Before moving to the United States, Osborn didn’t even know what dating entailed. Back home, she explains, people simply hang out and eventually end up together. The process is pretty straightforward, she tells me. There isn’t much of an “exclusive/non-exclusive” stage.
After years of dating without any luck, and before meeting Ryan, Osborn deleted her apps and relinquished all attempts to meet anyone worthy of calling her boyfriend. No more talking stages, no more circling back, no more, “You have such a cool accent.”
Talking to other foreigners—and speaking from personal experience—it seems like dating in the U.S. is confusing at best and heart-wrenching at worst, but dating as a foreigner has its own set of rules that don’t apply to locals.
The fear of people just trying to place a flag on a map is real. Are foreigners actual people? Or are they just walking accents? People have been commenting on my Italian accent almost every day since I moved to the United States in 2012, but if I had a dollar for every time someone told me my accent is sexy, I would probably be a millionaire by now.
So why exactly are Americans attracted to accents? And why does their curiosity stop at those?
According to Dr. Pfeuffer, “There can be an attractiveness to the unknown or the different. Whether it's a physical characteristic, an accent, or simply knowing that someone is not from America, it can be enticing to some and viewed as unique and more interesting.”
“. . . [But] while the initial interest can be strong, perhaps some people don't consider that dating someone from a different culture requires a different type of effort,” Pfeuffer says. “This can include learning cultural differences, unique lived experiences, language/social interpretations, and values that are a big part of a person's identity.”
When, on top of an accent, you throw a different skin tone into the mix of dating as a foreigner, the results are slightly more complicated.
I met Brijesh—who prefers to leave his last name out of this story—on OkCupid. We went on one date before deciding to keep in touch as friends. No spark for us, but definitely lots of conversation.
Brijesh, 30, moved to the United States from India to attend graduate school.
“I started dating a few months after moving to San Diego,” Brijesh says. “I used apps because it was hard for me to meet people in real life.”
Brijesh is in a relationship with a girl he met online. He tells me he’s happy now, but he definitely hasn’t forgotten about his previous romantic entanglements, which included all sorts of comments about his skin color and…you guessed it…his accent.
“I think most of them [the girls I dated] liked how I spoke at first, but then they would later make comments about my skin,” Brijesh says. “I got called ‘chocolate boy’ before. That was actually pretty common. And if it wasn’t ‘chocolate,’ it was something else.”
Sure, the comments about his skin abounded, but Brijesh confirmed what Osborn already told me: While dating, nobody was interested in his cultural background.
“I feel like white people were very conscious about asking about my country,” Brijesh says.
As to why that might have been, Brijesh thinks people here don’t want foreigners to know they think differently of them just because they come from another country.
And just like Osbron, Brijesh had to literally learn how to date.
“If you start seeing someone [in India], you are exclusive,” Brijesh says. “Relationships are more involved and deeper. You can’t just tell someone ‘all the best’ if a date doesn’t go well and expect things to go over smoothly.”
Brijesh goes as far as telling me that there is no hookup culture in India. Forget about being friends with benefits. Don’t even think about taking your future ex-boyfriend home for the holidays. Brijesh says that, generally speaking, the Indian women he has met throughout his life want real romance, and they want it now. Indian men are expected to deliver.
“If you introduce your significant other to your parents, they’ll know that’s your future spouse,” Brijesh says. “Americans are used to the idea of switching partners. For a long time, I thought it was weird how fast girls introduce you to their families here.”
I think about my ex-boyfriend, the son of Czech immigrants. It took him exactly two years to introduce me to his family. I compare him to my American ex-husband, who proposed to me after three months of meeting me and introduced me to his family within the same time frame. Brijesh might be onto something.
I learned what dating meant after my marriage ended, unaware that I knew absolutely nothing about it. In Italy, much like in Australia, there are one-night stands, and then there is being in a relationship, with no in-between phases. That is, no one in Italy is spending their dating phase talking to 10 different dudes/dudettes like we're all on The Bachelor or something. Cazzo!
Relationships are long, serial monogamists are common, and getting married to your high school/college sweetheart is completely normal. At least it was when I left the country 10 years ago.
Osborn tells me she is, once again, single. The thought of going back to dating apps makes her vomit. She thinks maybe San Diego is cursed.
Foreigners can’t seem to catch a break. No happily ever after is in sight for some of us. But Dr. Pfeuffer says that is to be expected on some level.
“While we may have 20 saved movies in our Netflix queue, we might opt to move past those and continue scrolling just to see what other movies are available today,” Dr. Pfeuffer says. “To say that you've seen a foreign film can make one sound more interesting. [But] sometimes, at the end of the day, we return to that favorite sitcom or movie that we can recite the lines to, such as The Office.”
AWKSD GUEST LIST
The Guest List gives AWKSD subscribers the opportunity to see live music for free. Just reply to this email and let me know which show you want to see, and I’ll hook you and a friend up. First come, served.
Sunday, Feb. 13
Nile, Incantation, Sanguisugabogg, I Am @ Brick By Brick: You know what’s better than the Super Bowl (which is happening on this night)? Death metal. Legendary metalers Nile make music that sounds like it was ripped straight from the devil’s gut, but underneath the growling and evil, there’s speed and technicality that, I daresay, is almost beautiful. Go bang your head tonight—it’s a lot better than supporting capitalism-fueled head trauma.
Got a tip or wanna say hi? Email me at email@example.com, or follow me on Twitter @theryanbradford. And if you like what you’ve just read, please hit that little heart icon at the end of the post.