[kiss1]Candle light, a soft ballad wafting through the air, dinner prepared for two in an intimate setting, hands clasped, eyes locked. This scene usually comes to mind when Americans think about romance.
Images in the media and lyrics in songs paint this picture, and many constantly seek to experience it themselves. As MSU prepares for a personal day of loving (or loathing), better known as Valentine\’s Day, what about other parts of the world? Sure, the United States is a leader when it comes to globalization, but how aware are we of cultural differences in affection? What attracts a man to a woman in France? How do couples date in Latin America? Where did the wonderful act of kissing in courtship come from?
In search of the perfect significant other, Americans are drawn first to physical appearance. Once a mutual attraction is felt, a twosome may go out to the movies one night and dinner the next, then never see each other again. Or they may hit it off and become a couple, walk the streets hand in hand, stopping on the corner of Grand River and M.A.C. to share a passionate kiss. Still others may click and rarely do more than hold hands while in public.
Here in the States, the words ‘I love you’ are said frequently and generously. It is no longer uncommon for a woman to make the first move. It is common, however, for a woman to remain single well into her 30s, dating when it strikes her fancy or swearing off men when dating no longer suits her. But how does this compare to other cultures and their expressions of affection?
Psychology junior Ayaka Nangumo said it is standard for Japanese boys and girls to begin dating around age 15, and two people get to know each other by exchanging text messages and e-mails until they are comfortable enough with each other to go out on a date. \”Normally a girl will text message a guy asking him to call her,” she said. “It is expensive to make calls in Japan, and this way the guy will pay for the fee.” While Nangumo said Japanese men may still call the shots, their expressions of affection are not always clear. \”When a Japanese man tells a woman \’I love you, I love you, I love you,\’ she may begin to get suspicious and ask herself, \’Is he cheating on me?,\’\” she said. [pullquotealmonte]
However, according to assistant professor in anthropology Adan Quan, expressions of affection in Latin America are anything but reserved. \”I would say there is probably more effusive affection in Latin America,” Quan said when comparing certain parts of Latin America to the United States. “People are slightly more expressive.\” According to Quan, a person may walk down the street on any given day and see couples exchanging kisses on the cheek, which is also common in France and the Middle East.
While Quan said people must be careful of generalizing cultural norms, traditions such as kisses on the cheek can still be found in many parts of Latin America. Many men find the act of serenading an integral part of courtship, too. \”In Mexico and Latin America, a male will go beneath the window of his girlfriend and serenade her with a mariachi band,\” said Quan.
In South American countries such as Peru, they have a history sculpted by traditions that are still practiced today. “We tend to value relationships a lot, same as family life, and have very strong bonds between the ones we love,” said civil engineering senior Ana Almonte, a native Peruvian.
For example, in South America it is still common for a married couple to live with the man or woman’s parents to strengthen the bond formed through love. Stemming from different sources, such as religion, importance of family and cultural values, the affection shared between men and women, be it romantic or otherwise, is held in a much higher esteem than you might see in the United States. When a man is interested in a woman, he may profess his love or ask her on a date, and her acceptance seals the deal. Once a date is initiated, a man and a woman become known as “enamorado” and “enamorada,” meaning they are boyfriend and girlfriend.
“On St. Valentine\’s Day, we don\’t usually know it as ‘Dia de San Valentin,’ but it is most commonly known as ‘Dia de los Enamorados,’ Day of the Beloved, or Day of Boyfriends and Girlfriends. Also, February 14 is known to be the ‘Day of Love and Friendship,\’\” said Almonte. \”That is why friends also express the feelings they have toward others, and people do many things together like hang out, watch a movie at the cinemas, go to eat at a special place or go dancing.\”
[dance]Dancing is becoming a popular way to meet people in many countries, but the styles of dance can be very different. One can walk into The Dollar, a popular East Lansing club, and find scantily-clad women and muscle-teed men bumping and grinding, but this is not the norm everywhere. “We dance in a different way (in Peru) than people in the U.S.,” Almonte said. “The way young Americans dance may be a little disrespectful to some South American people, or maybe too sexy. We try to keep composure, but at the same time try to show the people we like that we can dance well.”
Much of the Middle East shares a more conservative approach to dating than in the United States. This is strongly due to religious beliefs. Marketing junior Zeina Salah grew up in Jordan and pointed out, “[L]aws are mainly Muslim laws, related to Muslim religion.” The conservative laws, based on Sharia law (or Muslim religious law), can even restrict a man and woman from kissing in a coffee shop. In order to date, a man will often have to go to the woman\’s father and ask for his daughter’s hand, meaning he would like to get to know her better. The father’s decision also depends greatly on the religion of the man in question.
“The big thing is religion. If you’re a Christian, dating a Muslim is not accepted,” said Salah. A Muslim woman who marries a Christian is still often shunned, but many places in the Middle East are coming to accept a Christian woman marrying a Muslim man. This is due largely to globalization, Salah said, and the diffusion of cultural beliefs with the rest of the world. “Places like Lebanon, Jordan and Syria are more open-minded than places like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Yemen,” said Salah. “We’re more exposed to globalization, and the gulf region is still based more on the Sharia.”
However, arranged marriages still occur in the Arab world, but predominately in lower classes. “As you go up in the social ladder, people are more open-minded,” said Salah. “They go places and see things.”
As parts of the Middle East continue to change and develop, however, many women are beginning to take on different roles. They are becoming more independent, no longer rely on their family to choose their spouse and many may remain single. A single woman is still often frowned upon, however. “After she is 30, a single woman in the Arab community is considered to have something wrong with her, but if you’re under 30, you’re good to go.” However, according to Salah, bachelors over 30 are not looked at in a negative way at all. “The focus is on women. It’s always the woman’s fault – the pressure is on women.\”
The importance of and stress on dating and relationships found in other countries can also be found in France. If a man and a woman go on one date, alone, they are often considered boyfriend and girlfriend. A man and woman may go out with friends on a “group date” in order to get to know one another before making a commitment.
Journalism senior Jeff Strayer feels the attitudes of French women are different from those of American women. The French tend to carry a stronger sense of sophistication and are cooler toward men, he noted. \”It also appeared that they were the ones in control,\” said Strayer.
While spending time in the European country, Strayer also noticed the French\’s very outward expression of affection. \”Once people are in relationships, you see a lot more public affection than you do here,\” he said. \”People make out and kind of hang on each other on the metro or at bus stops, or wherever really. I was surprised at how often and where I would see people kissing, and not just small kisses.\”
Kissing is an act that has been involved in courtship for quite some time and is practiced throughout the world. Developed in primitive times, the kiss and its origin are still under debate. In the 6th century, however, kissing evolved into an act performed during courtship between men and women. Reportedly, France was the first country to accept the kiss in courtship. The act of kissing as a form of affection in relationships swept through Europe, into Russia, and blossomed into the widespread custom it is today. It has even been implemented into marriage ceremonies, used as greeting between members of the opposite sex and is often associated with holidays such as New Years Eve and Valentine\’s Day.
[internationalove]As Valentine\’s Day rolls around, lovers around the world are buying gifts, sending text messages and preparing serenades to ensure they catch the attention of that special someone. Globalization will continue and cultures will change and evolve, but the importance of affection between two people, in its many forms, will continue to stand across the globe. “Relationships are desired by most people, like almost anywhere around the world,” said Almonte. “In other words, people do not want to be alone.”

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