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http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/news-fea ... h-men.html
The trouble with British men
BY JULIA LLEWELLYN SMITH | 27 JANUARY 2008
Good news for British men: there have never been so many attractive, single women from abroad looking for love. The bad news? They think you're a lazy, unchivalrous, emotionally retarded and - eek - effeminate bunch. Hey, steady on now girls, says Julia Llewellyn Smith
When Jennifer Rohn arrived in London from Idaho, America, ten years ago she had a vision of a typical British man: a mix of Hugh Grant, Lord Byron and Colin 'wet shirt' Firth in Pride & Prejudice. This man would have floppy hair and wear Savile Row suits; he would pick her up in his Aston Martin, take her to dinner at Scott's and then woo her with some Marvell in front of a blazing log fire back at his country pile. The reality, however, was more disappointing.
'British men are certainly witty and charming,' says Jennifer, now 39 and a cell biologist. 'In fact, I'd say they were witty and charming to the point where they're a bit in-your-face. But then you ask them out and they run a mile. Basically, they charm the pants off you but then they run away when they see your knickers.'
With about 700,000 foreigners now estimated to be living permanently in Britain, romantic prospects have never been rosier for British men. Our cities are full of attractive, bright young women from all over the world. Yet, too often, the men they view as potential breeding partners turn out to be less James Bond and more Austin Powers.
Researching this article has given me a startling insight into the peculiar nuances of our mating practices. It was only, for example, on talking to Jennifer and other foreign women that I realised that every significant relationship in my life had begun with the help of several bottles of wine. The British may be constantly berated for our binge-drinking, but for a race so shy alcohol is vital in lubricating confidence. Without it, British DNA would probably have fizzled out centuries ago.
Even with the help of drink, our relationships progress at a tortoise pace that other nationalities find exasperating. 'In all the time I've been here I have always had to do the asking out. A man has never asked me,' Jennifer says, sighing. 'And don't think I'm not attractive, because I am.' It's a remark that - while true - would never issue from the mouth of a self-deprecating Brit.
Part of the problem is that the goal of British courtship is not simply to find a life partner. It is also about doing everything possible to avoid what we hate most - making fools of ourselves. No wonder, then, that extravagant compliments, overt flirtation and official 'dates' - all considered normal virtually everywhere else - fail to thrive in the land of the stiff upper lip. Terrified of humiliating rejection, British men, it seems, will do almost anything to avoid showing their true feelings until they are certain they will be reciprocated.
I suspect Jennifer's direct approach is simply too intimidating for our men, who prefer face-saving manoeuvres where no one is ever put on the spot. Despite such cultural misunderstandings, she eventually won the heart of Matt, her boyfriend of three years. 'Later I found out he didn't like me at first because he thought I was too aggressive,' she says. 'I just don't know how to play it.'
Maryam, 31, an engineer who moved to London from Iran four years ago to work as a beautician, echoes Jennifer's words. 'British men seem to think women are mind-readers,' she complains. 'In my country, if you like a man, you make eye contact with him once, then you look at him again for longer and he knows you are interested. But how do you know here if someone likes you?' She can see some benefits to this diffidence. 'Iranian men say, "I love you, you are a queen." They're nice words but they don't mean anything. With an Englishman you know it's sincere, and I like that.'
Yet while we may be slow to say, 'I love you,' we waste little time getting physical - as underlined by our teenage pregnancy rate, the highest in western Europe. Inevitably, this poses problems for Maryam, who, while not a practising Muslim, grew up in an Islamic culture. 'In Iran people do sleep together before they are married but not before maybe five, six years,' she says. 'Here men expect it of you after perhaps the third date. It makes things awkward for me, because I cannot do that. Then the Englishman thinks I don't like him when the opposite is true. I feel guilty about it but it's too much part of my culture to oppose.'
And while Maryam left Iran for a society where women had more freedom, egalitarianism, she feels, can go too far. 'I remember my first date with a British man in a restaurant: the bill came and I waited for him to take his wallet out but he did nothing. In the end I realised he wanted us to split it. I think that's terrible. If a man can't even pay for dinner how is he going to support you and a child?'
Like Maryam, Yoshimi, 32, from Tokyo, who has lived in London for three years teaching Japanese cookery, was attracted to Britain because it offered more professional and personal opportunities to women. Recently she joined a dating agency, Destina Japan, with the aim of finding a British husband.
'French and Italian men come on too strong for me,' she says. 'I like the fact English men are shyer. I find them more down-to-earth and I feel I can trust them. They may not compliment you often, but they're better than Japanese men, who never say anything nice to their wives.
'I used to live in America and there men opened doors and said, "Ladies first," and helped me on with my jacket, because I think American women need a lot of attention. English women are much more independent, and perhaps as a result British men don't treat them so courteously.'
Predictably, women from Latin cultures tend to be most unnerved by what they perceive as our lack of chivalry. Vanessa Muscara, an Italian financial analyst who has lived here on and off for 13 years, cannot imagine settling down with a British man. 'I never know what they are thinking and they never flatter you,' says Vanessa, 31, from Rome. 'However much of an effort I made for my ex, he never said, "You look great." The best I'd get was, "You look well." It drove me crazy. Women are meant to make an effort to look attractive, and it should be acknowledged. Women complain about Italian men being sleazy, but what's wrong with a "Ciao, bella" when you're looking your best?'
Being so emotionally constipated, the British are unsurprisingly the heaviest users of social networking sites in Europe. Recent research showed that the average Briton spent nearly six hours a month bantering on sites such as Facebook compared, say, with two hours for the French. By the same token, we have embraced the cowardly art of text-messaging, much to the disgust of the forthright Jennifer Rohn. 'No one speaks to each other directly,' she says. 'They send these cryptic little texts and then spend ages decoding them. I used to work with a group of younger women and they were always saying, "It's been five days since I had a text. What should I do?" or, "What does this text mean?" I was forever having to proofread their replies and I'd think, "Come on, girls, why don't you just call him?"'
Annie Labura, 35, an actress from Croatia, has been constantly frustrated by British evasiveness, too. 'I had boyfriends who'd say things like, "At Christmas I'm going to go to the Red Sea. You should come with me."I'd think, "Hey, we're planning holidays - this guy's thinking marriage!" It took me a long time to realise he didn't really mean it; he just didn't want to be rude. That got me hurt a lot. In Croatia you know where you stand with people. There's none of this game-playing. Here people are too repressed to tell you the truth.'
Annie is especially unimpressed by our prudishness. 'With one of my exes, if we ever held hands in front of his parents, he'd tell me off for PDA [public displays of affection]. If they showed affection to each other, he'd squirm and say it was disgusting. In Croatia you think it's wonderful your mother and father love each other and can show it.'
I sympathise with many of my interviewees' criticisms, but some of their complaints leave me baffled. Annie is appalled at how 'effeminate' British men are. 'I remember finding my first British boyfriend, who was a real rugby-playing type, ironing. I was totally gobsmacked,' she recalls. 'I offered to do it for him, but he got quite huffy and said he ironed better than his mother.'
But surely a man who irons is a prize? Annie shakes her head. 'In Croatia men sit on the sofa with a beer and women run around and look after the house. I may be a peasant, but I somehow think it's my job to cook and do laundry, while the man fixes the car.'
So should we despair of the British man? Initially, talking to these women, I thought so. Yet, reading between the lines, the positive qualities are there. They may not hold open doors for us, but at least they do their own ironing. They may not gush, but nor do they mislead us. They may not come straight to the point, but they do embrace life's ambiguities with sophistication and humour.
Jennifer Rohn agrees. 'On average British men are more articulate and amusing than Americans. They seem more willing to take the funny and absurd angle on things, and to go at life with a healthy sense of fun.' Annie Labura concurs. 'They're clever and sensitive and I can really talk to them.'
Maryam stresses that, for all her misgivings, she would still rather marry a British man than an Iranian. 'They have what we call "clean eyes". They don't stare at other women when their wife isn't there - unlike the Spanish.' She smiles. 'Look, I think your men are really good and nice. If they weren't so lazy, they'd be fantastic.'
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