Speaking the language of love: Just arrived in the big city? Been transferred here by your company? Mike Hanson - Canadian please, not American - looks at how to find romance

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Today is Saturday. If you are a native of London or have been here a while, you probably have a date tonight. If you're new to London, the chances are you don't.

Why is it so difficult for us foreigners to get dates? Well aside from language, culture, and the fact that cars drive on the wrong side of the road, it's simply that we don't know anyone, don't know where anything is, and haven't the first clue where to begin.

The usual tunnels of love are not open to us. We're new to town and don't know where all the trendy pick-up places are. We go and see St Paul's, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, and all the other sights, but they're not really ideal for bumping into an enchanting stranger. And there's little in the way of official help in this area. I've yet to see a tour guide point out: 'And on your left is the historic King Henry VIII public house, one of London's best pubs in which to score'.

A lot of people find true love at work, exchanging love memos in the internal mail. If your company has transferred you here, it's usually staffed by the last people on earth you want to date - lonely expatriates like yourself. Anyway, some people have a strict policy not to date those they have to see at the coffee machine every day.

My problem is that as a freelance writer, I work from home. The only women I meet are the ones I interview, who generally fall into three categories: rich celebrities who only acknowledge my presence when their publicists point out the tape-recorder in my hand; suspicious politicians who equate me with the stuff they scrape off their brogues; and the psychopathic type who are doing 35 years for hacking their husbands to death. I also have a strict policy about dating women I work with.

Meanwhile, ethnic community centres offer a sense of belonging and companionship for some. It is only natural to want to date someone who speaks your language, shares your faith, and harbours the same political extremism that put you in exile in the first place.

You can also check out prospective partners at your local festival. If you're West Indian, there is the Notting Hill Carnival, and if you're Asian, the Chinese New Year is celebrated in Soho. But being Canadian, all I get is the Maple Leaf pub in Covent Garden.

Another problem of being new to a city is you have no friends to feel sorry for you and fix you up on blind dates. If you're lucky, you might have some aged aunty who can introduce you to a neighbour's son or daughter with a 'very pleasant personality'. Some may scoff, but I contend that a blind date, however horrific, is better than no date at all.

One Australian man I met, Andy, felt so lonely after making a call home from a public telephone box that he responded to one of the many cards stuck in the window, attracted to the one that promised 'to soothe the weary traveller'.

He claims that he didn't know what type of cards these were. He rang the number and the woman on the other end asked him to come over. He arrived at a small flat in Soho, where he found out exactly what 'soothing' means (and how much it costs). He was so shocked he didn't stay one minute over the half-hour she had scheduled him for . . . .

Joining a dating agency is a double-edged Cupid's arrow. Any embarrassment you might feel is eradicated by the fact that since you don't know anyone, there's no one to tease you about taking such a step. On the other hand, they are costly, and not too eager to sign up foreigners unless you can prove you'll be here happily ever after.

I had been in London for no more than two weeks before I was approached by someone carrying out a survey. Was I married or single? Was I interested in meeting quality women? Naturally. So I gave my name and number, despite my misgivings. A dating agency had approached me in the same way back in Toronto. When they found out how poor I was, they refused to return my calls. Talk about rejection.

The agency rang me a few days later. 'Oh,' said the sweet-sounding Jessica, 'I can tell by your accent that you're an American and probably won't be here for long. We're looking to place people in permanent relationships.' Click.

I didn't protest because I wasn't really interested, but it did present a problem I had not thought of - my accent. It's hard to hide, and so instead of sounding like Richard Burton, they tell me I give a fair approximation of Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.

Furthermore, it can be very difficult convincing a well-educated English woman that I am not some brash American playboy here briefly for a good time before I move on to the hot-blooded babes of Paris and Rome.

A friend called Dave has encountered the same problem. He is over here working at the London branch of an American financial group for two years. Then it's back to the Big Apple. His problem is this: what to do in the meantime?

As a newcomer, he is experiencing the same difficulties in meeting women as discussed earlier. And at 33, part of him is longing to settle into a monogamous relationship.

'The problem,' he says, 'is that I don't want to get involved, then have to leave someone I love to go back home. Anyway, when women find out that I'm only here for another year, most don't want to get involved either, which usually means no dates at all.'

It's not all bad, however. Maybe you just want an uninhibited, uncommitted, unconventional short- term fling. Despite Britain's well-fostered international reputation for sexual repression, there are people out there who are looking for the same.

One thing for certain is that an overseas accent can be a powerful attraction. We foreigners carry a certain mystique that your everyday neighbourhood Nigel doesn't have. Our voices are attention

getters, and we don't even have to speak English.

I was standing in Carnaby Street recently, enjoying a drink in what I've been told is uncharacteristically good English weather for the time of year, watching this 'novelty factor' at work. A young Italian man was chatting happily with three lovely natives.

They were getting on famously, despite the fact that he knew very little English, and they knew absolutely no Italian. The body language of flirtation is universal. 'So what have you heard about Birmingham girls? ' the redhead asked him. 'That you're easier than Pop Quiz with the answers right in front of you,' I couldn't resist interrupting. Perhaps I'd had one pint too many.

They looked at me: shocked, angry, then pleased. They realised something - I talk funny. I must be from somewhere else, somewhere even further than Europe. And my rudeness could mean only one thing: 'Oh look, he's an American,' said the blonde. Ouch] An insult to Canadians. But patriotism has its time and place - and this wasn't one of them.

There's a peculiar strength in anonymity. It gives you an 'I've got nothing to lose' attitude that breeds self-confidence. And above all else, people are attracted to self-confidence.

As a foreigner, you have no problem walking up to someone you fancy to ask: 'Which subway do I take to Stonehenge?' It's a great ice-breaker not available to the locals. If a Londoner tried that, he would just look stupid - stupidity not being high on the list of what most English women look for in a man.

And it was with that cavalier attitude that I finally did meet someone. I got wind of a party for writers at some place called the Groucho Club. So I invited myself, not realising (or caring) it was a private party, not to mention private club.

After a bottle of wine, and enthralling everyone with the old 'I'm a famous Canadian journalist here to write a novel' routine, I began to hand my number out like a political pamphlet. It worked. I received three calls the next day from women who wanted to show me the sights of London.

So it's Saturday night and I finally have a date. Three to be exact. St Paul's at eight, Trafalgar Square at 10, and Big Ben at midnight. Don't tell anyone I've seen it all before. The only problem is that I still can't work out the A-Z.

Can anyone tell which subway I take to get to St Paul's?