In western cultures, the first date is something which is constantly discussed, scrutinized, and picked apart, nuance by nuance. It is the subject of films and television dramas, the object of game shows, and the topic of conversation between both teenage girls and hot to trot forty something cougars.

In fact, first dates are so frequent and so very normal within western societies that it is easy to assume every other culture perceives the ‘art of dating’ in the same way. It is not often that we stop to think about how the first sparks of romance might be different in say, China or Iceland. We rarely think about whether it is okay to hold hands in India on a first date or whether it is deemed appropriate for new couples to kiss in Somalia.

If we take something like kissing in public, which can be very controversial in certain parts of the world, it becomes easier to see which cultures are big on sloppy smooches and grand PDAs and which tend to be a little more reserved. For anybody who loves to travel and explore new countries, this kind of insight can be invaluable – the last thing that you want on a backpacking trip is to meet somebody special and then offend them on the first date!

It should come as no surprise to find that the more religious the culture, the more reserved couples are expected to behave on a first date. Within the Middle East, for example (in countries like Dubai and Bahrain), kissing on a first date is very much forbidden and can carry severe penalties. This is because the Muslim faith teaches followers to live celibate lives until they are married.

In Europe, things are very different. Over the years, France has gained a reputation for being quite a saucy culture, because it is not uncommon for couples to kiss passionately in public. In countries like Italy, Germany, and Spain, kissing on the first date is, again, no big deal. If anything, it is thought of a matter of personal preference.

The same can be said for much bigger countries like Canada and the US, which are home to so many individual cultures and religions that it does not make sense for there to be any hard and fast rules regarding dating. Whilst a lot of modern women do believe that a first kiss should be delayed, a huge amount of these women are also happy to admit that they do not always follow this guideline.

So, the bottom line is that religion tends to signal cultures with a much more reserved dating style. If you visit Thailand, for example, where 95% of people are Buddhists, dating etiquette discourages not only kissing on the first date, but too much physical contact of any kind. For cultures with a more open attitude to romance, you need to look to the deeply western nations of Europe and America, where movies, literature, music, and art have long been pushing the issue of sex and relationships into the spotlight.
A good rule is, if in doubt, don’t!