Understanding affection across cultures

Image courtesy of Wix

In England, the sight of two people passionately making out in public is slightly cringe-worthy and uncomfortable. We tend to give a quick kiss hello or goodbye and leave anything else more passionate to the ‘room’ our friends tell us to ‘get in’. Our tolerance for PDA – public display of affection – is thin, with a quick kiss in a romantic relationship or a quick kiss on the cheek from a close friend being the limit to what is deemed acceptable in public. Our typical greeting with a close friend is a hug. We sometimes initiate with strangers or acquaintances. Of course, all of these social rules are thrown out of the window at Venue’s NXT where PDA is guaranteed; of which those regrettable memories of ‘affection’ haunt you the next day. The focus of this article, however, is not to discuss the goings-on in Venue, but to provide some interesting facts on affection and public tolerances across several different cultures. Focusing on the physical rather than verbal, I would like to offer some information on different cultures. Hopefully, it will make us more aware as travellers.

European culture is often seen as the most liberal when it comes to affection. France, Italy and Spain are considered as one of the most openly physically affectionate countries. The normal greeting in France is to give an air kiss on each cheek – this is also the norm in Italy and Spain – although the number of kisses can vary for each region of these countries. In Paris the air kiss starts with the right cheek and in the South of France it starts on the left. What we may find surprising is that to the French, hugging is considered to be more intimate than kissing. It is typically only given among romantic partners, children, or family members. They can also be given among close friends in an appropriate context; however, this is less common than in Italy where bear hugs among close friends are perfectly normal. The French, the Spanish and the Italians are also not shy about romantic displays of affection in public. Typical romantic gestures such as giving flowers and having candlelit dinners at cosy restaurants are considered the norm.

In many Asian countries, public displays of affection are frowned upon and seen as inappropriate, particularly around elders. Although in Japan, we often see the classic ‘confessions of love’ in anime, a popular form of media, the reality is quite different. Most people are reserved in public as the Japanese culture prizes emotional preservation. These public displays of affection will not go unnoticed and is better kept within the private sphere. The preferred manner of showing affection in Japan is through services such as cooking and preparing food, with the receiver showing a sign of appreciation for the food. A good example being the traditional act of the women in the family creating an elaborate packed lunch for those who need one to demonstrate their love. South Korea, much like Japan, has the equally rare sighting of public kissing. Holding hands is the extent to which South-Korean citizens show physical affection publicly. Holding hands is common among friends, making it hard to distinguish who is a couple and who is not, other than possibly spotting coordinated outfits which some couples see as a sign of affection. Despite the conservation towards such public displays South Koreans hold couple-based celebrations on the 14th of every month, having a day for hugging, for kissing and a day set-aside for singles. They celebrate romance considerably more than just Valentine’s Day.

In the Middle East, PDA is not only frowned upon, but can actually be a criminal offence.

Holding hands for a married couple is tolerated but kissing and petting is not considered acceptable. Between friends; holding hands is acceptable, and among men it is seen as a sign of solidarity. According to the New York Times, in the Middle East "holding hands is the warmest expression of affection between men”.

This contrasts with Russia, where holding hands between men is seen as an extremely subversive political statement. The act may put individuals in a threatening situation as it is deemed to be an expression of homosexuality and therefore not complying with the ideals of orthodox Christianity. Open displays of affection between heterosexual couples are allowed, so long as they are not expressed near or on the grounds of a religious monument or church.

If you wish to be a respectful tourist on your romantic holidays in foreign countries, refer to this article or further foreign advice sites online. Although much of the world is accommodating to us tourists today, choosing to be culturally aware is a good idea.

This article is part of our one-off edition of IQ Magazine, out from November the 29th 2019. Pick up the magazine on campus in our InQuire distribution bins in Keynes, Co-op, the Templeman library and other locations on campus.