8 Things That Happened to Us While Dating Abroad

When we met at college, little did we know that between the two of us, we would spend the next few years living in five different countries (U.S., France, China, Australia and England)  on four different continents . Naturally, when we made our initial moves, our heads were full of images of exotic foreign men and exciting adventures. But, as with many things about living abroad, dating abroad turned out to hold some surprises in store for us. During that time, we dated some weird people, made some questionable choices, and occasionally fell flat on our faces while trying to flirt in a second language.

Now that we’re both living in London, we’ve come to view these dates fondly (though it took longer for some than others) and started cataloging the good, the bad, and the extremely strange men that we dated. These are the strangest eight things that happened to us while dating abroad:


1. Some Guy Thought I Was A Witch: My friends and I were dancing with abandon at a shitty Irish bar in Paris because sometimes those are the only bars you can get into. My friend Sarah and I had been too shy to date anyone during our time studying abroad in Paris, but we felt bold so we wrote out notes in terrible French (“I never do this, but here is my phone number”) and dared each other to give them to the first cute guys we saw. I dropped mine in the lap of a tall blond guy and ran away.

Two days later, the guy called. He was Swiss-German, on vacation, and didn’t speak English; I had been in France studying abroad for less than two months. We spoke in broken French and then made out like crazy in a booth at the bar.

The next day, on the train back to Switzerland, he texted me that I made his penis hurt. Is this a compliment in Switzerland? Not sure. I told him (I think) that I wasn’t a sorcerer and hadn’t cursed him. I never heard from him or his penis ever again.

 2. I Never Got The Joke:  A few years later, I was teaching English in Paris. A Spanish student (tall, dark and handsome) from one of my English classes asked me out to see “a concert.” His English was high school-level; so was my Spanish, ergo we spoke in French. The “concert” turned out to be a musical comedy show in French and I understood nothing. Literally nothing. I don’t remember a single damn thing about that performance except Pablo running his fingers up and down my arm and me shivering. At least body language is universal.

After the concert, all of a sudden, he just pulled my shoulders towards him and dove in for a kiss, but I was smiling and it was unexpected so we hit our teeth together in the process.

“Now it won’t be awkward later,” he said, smiling, even though it was totally awkward at that moment.

My teeth still hurt remembering this moment. He lives and works in New York now, though, so I guess I was a pretty good English teacher.

3. I Learned to Always Get a Full Frontal View: I once spent an entire night in Paris chatting to the cutest guy, who was charming and urbane and took me and my friends to a chic cigar bar in one of the most expensive parts of town. He looked like Clive Owen and I spent the evening sitting next to him, chatting away in my pidgin French, curious about what our French wedding would look like and what we would call our French children.

Then at the end of the night (I’d been sitting on his left side all evening) the lights came up and he turned to face me. He only had teeth on one side of his face.

We never did get married or have French children.

 4. I Turned Down My Own Personal Masseur: In Paris, a neighbor tried to strike up conversations with me. He started showing up at my door with trays full of food around dinnertime.  He reeked of cologne, used way too much hair gel, wore lots of gold necklaces, and was unemployed.

I made the mistake of eating with him the first time, after which point he tried to kiss me and I ducked under his shoulder.  He tried to kiss me again and I ducked under his shoulder again. Finally he laughed. “You seem so tense,” he said.

“I am,” I said. “Very tense. My back is … rocks.” (He didn’t speak English and I don’t know the French word for ‘knots’).

Several times a month, I would get this text message: “massage?  i have the very good hands ;)”

Those messages made me feel :(  He was the one reason I wasn’t sad to leave Paris and move to London.


5. I Could Have Married The Chinese Michael Jordan: I got stranded inside of a Starbucks in Beijing during a massive summer downpour. When this happens in Beijing, the streets flood and it’s impossible to find a cab. As the rain was pouring down, the tallest and largest Chinese man in the entire world started talking to me. He said, “I can tell you’re an American because of your shoes.” (I was wearing flip-flops.) I had literally nothing to say to him, so I just looked at his long legs and asked, “What are you, a basketball player or something?” It turns out that he was – he played pro in the U.S. and he trained Yao Ming. There was no sign of the rain letting up, so he persuaded me to have dinner with him (the Starbucks was attached to a fancy hotel). That’s how I ended up having an impromptu three-course meal with a retired professional Chinese basketball player. I remember in the elevator on the way out, I could see our reflection in a mirror – I came up to his thighs.

During dinner, he said that Chinese girls had the bodies of chopsticks, but that I was not a chopstick (implied: this is because my body shape is “dumpling”). The more he talked about the models he dated and he drank more alcohol, he began to look more and more like a scary shark to me.

Finally the rain cleared up. He offered to drop me home in a taxi and when I got to my street, I quickly jumped out. I never saw him again, but I’ll never forget what it felt like to have dinner with a giant (I felt so dainty!).

6. I Accidentally Roofied Myself: In Beijing, I dated a beautiful Brazilian guy. Because he spoke English so badly, our common language was Mandarin, but we always had such a great time together. One time, when we were spending the night together, I accidentally took my roommate’s Ambien instead of my antibiotics when I was sick. But I had no idea I’d mixed the pills up.

While falling asleep next to the Brazilian, I began to see the most beautiful images of things that don’t exist – colors melding together, cars that drive on their sides, birds with feathers and fur. It was all so beautiful. I wasn’t frightened at all, but completely in awe. I stared up at these incredible creatures and objects that appeared above us as I kept asking Bruno what he thought of them and if he liked them, too.

That’s pretty much the last thing I remember.

Turns out Ambien makes me hallucinate.

The next day, after I had figured out what had happened, I asked the Brazilian if I sounded insane when I was describing my hallucinations, and he didn’t know what I was talking about. He said I sounded like I always do.

He didn’t speak English well enough to know if I was hallucinating.

7. The Government Regulated My Love Life: In Beijing, I had a Chinese language teacher who set me up with a new suitor each time we met. There was an American, a German, and finally, her boyfriend’s best friend – a gorgeous Chinese guy who was in the military. He spoke no English, and I spoke rudimental Mandarin, so at dinner my teacher would translate for us. After that, he would text me in Mandarin, asking simple questions like what my favorite fruit was. I always answered, because he was so handsome.

Then a Chinese coworker informed me that if I dated him, we would have to register our relationship with the government because he was in thearmy. Also, she said, he was actually forbidden to marry a foreigner.  What?

Sometimes I forgot what a strange place China is.

8. I Danced With A Penis By Firelight: When I was living in Australia (the first time around), I had a crush on a handsome burly Aussie named Alistair who I met at a wind-surfing camp (because, you know, Australia). At nightfall, everyone made a big bonfire and Alistair disappeared. Suddenly he and his friends reappeared – completely naked and holding sticks they had set on fire – they proceeded to fire-dance nude along the beach (because, you know, Australia). Miraculously, everybody came out of it with all of their original parts (minus some slightly singed public hair).

Nothing did ever end up happening with him. When I moved to Melbourne four years later, I went to a party where a friend took my arm and pulled me over to introduce me to a guy: “You have to meet my friend Alistair.”

I turned to him and said: “You know, I once met an Alistair – a crazy naked fire-dancing one.”

When our eyes locked, I realized it was him. He looked different inside a bar with clothes on.

More of Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale’s travels, dating adventures and job mishaps are in their book, Graduates In Wonderland (Gotham), which is out now.