Multicultural compatibility

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It had never occurred to me that the dating scene in Australia could appear peculiar to people from other cultures. Then I came across a guide on dating designed for international students.

Who knew you needed a guide? I thought it was pretty straight forward. You arrange to meet, have a few laughs and … boom! You’re in love. Or not. If only she hadn’t kept banging on about her ex like that. Oh well, better luck next time.

For the record, here’s what the student guide said: “Dating in Australia is a little bit like driving in the Outback. Sometimes it feels like everything’s going by very slowly, and there aren’t always clear road signs. You might feel a little lost. This is because, in Australia, there aren’t formal dating rules.” Makes you feel proud to be an Aussie, doesn’t it? What the guide is basically saying is that anything goes. If it feels good, go for it. But of course courtship in many cultures can be a highly regulated affair, or carry with it a burden of traditions that seem at odds with the Western notion of two people randomly meeting, falling in love and living happily ever after. Australia is a genuinely multicultural society and as more people turn to the internet to find a partner, intercultural relationships will continue to flourish.

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So here’s some of the world’s dating rituals you might encounter in your search for love.

Bhutan has a practice called “bomena”, or night hunting. The word literally means “going towards a girl”. It sounds innocent enough but I wouldn’t try it in Australia because you’ll either be beaten up by her dad or arrested for breaking and entering. Probably both. Bomena involves the boy sneaking into a girl’s house at night when the parents are asleep for a bit of hanky panky. If he’s still there in the morning, they get married. I can’t see it catching on here.

In Iran, socialising with the opposite sex if you aren’t married can get you thrown in jail or flogged. That’s a big price to pay for going on a date. The solution is “temporary marriage”. Iranian love birds wanting a relationship can arrange an official marriage lasting for as little as a few hours. The “groom” pays the “wife” an agreed sum, the time together is specified in the marriage contract and … voila! Off to the movies they go, safe in the knowledge they can hold hands without any risk.

In Poland couples get all flirty during Dyngus Day celebrations, with the guys chucking water on girls they like the look of as well as whacking them on the legs with branches of a willow tree. No, really. The girls then up the ante by hurling crockery at their tormentors. Seems fair.

In many Asian cultures dating, love and marriage is a transaction negotiated between families. In Beijing, for example, parents hoping to find a match for their children head to Zhongshan Park near the Forbidden City to barter for love on their behalf. They lay out information sheets detailing their adult child’s selling points, everything from academic qualifications and income to personal property. They also specify the qualities they are looking for in a prospective daughter or son-in-law. Other parents stroll along looking for likely candidates just as casually as they would shopping in a supermarket.

The remote Kreung tribe in Cambodia have a practice that modern feminists would be proud of. The fathers build “love huts” for their daughters, who can ask suitors to join them there for a chat … or more. It is private and the girl retains complete control of the space, so the boys have to behave themselves if they want to get another invitation.

As you can see from that small sample of the world’s dating tactics, there are many ways to get the boat floated. Love will always find a way.

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