Public Displays of Affection Abroad (PDA)

Hugging Salt ShakersThe UK used to be fairly famous for the prim and proper demeanour of its public – the country’s reputation was one of stiff upper lips, dutiful decorum and respect of privacy. And even today, a pat on the back, a firm handshake or an ‘I’ll buy you a pint’ are all nice, safe ways of expressing affection, whether you’re out celebrating your 50th anniversary with your wife or your mate’s just told him he’s splitting his lottery winnings with you.

That said, no-one’s going to arrest you if you’re kissing or snuggling your partner in public; likewise, hand-holding, a casual arm round the waist and the occasional cheeky bum squeeze aren’t going to get you in trouble. Most people will even tolerate the exuberant (if sick-making) lovey-dovey touchiness of some couples, especially if they’re young and obviously smitten – which sets us apart from many cultures in the world in which romantic love is either not expressed in public, or expressed in very different ways. Places like Dubai, which has a fairly high profile record of punishing people who transgress their laws on canoodling in the community.

Which is why, if you’re travelling with a partner, it’s a good idea to do your research on your destination’s ideas about fondling al fresco before your book your plane or purchase travel insurance – and avoid a situation where you have to check your passion in at the gate.

East Asia: PDA’s between couples are rare, here; hugging and snogging between men and women are pretty much unheard of and, if attempted, will probably make people uncomfortable at the least. In Thailand hand-holding is normal between couples but elsewhere could be considered taboo. In touristic areas, affectionate visitors will probably be indulged because of the travel money they bring to the local economy.

Between same-sex friends in East Asia, there’s cuddling galore – men and women can be very tactile when expressing their affection for each other. It’s not unusual to see locals holding hands with interlinking fingers, sitting in each other’s laps and embracing each other with a casual arm as they stroll down the street.

Western Asia: Pretty much anything that could be construed as romantic, seductive or in any ways sexual is to be avoided: kissing, hand holding, hugging etc. between you and your partner are no-no’s.

Latin America: Here’s the opposite, because tongue kisses, bum squeezes, cat calls and necking are all pretty much A-OK. Young guys and gals will gather in public areas like parks, away from the prying eyes of their more traditional parents, to let loose their teenage libidos. There’s even the occasional extreme PDA (think below-the-belt shenanigans) but just because it happens, doesn’t mean it’s advisable. Keep it savoury, traveller.

Caribbean: Hugs and kisses between men and women are acceptable to most islanders but you’re travelling as a gay couple, be careful which island you’re on: in some, like Jamaica and Barbados, homosexuality is punishable with hard labour and prison and homophobic attitudes prevail. Public displays of romantic affection between men in particular might raise hackles in the local community.

North and Western Africa: High-profile smooches and embraces aren’t tolerated, especially between gay couples – and it’s only really alright to hold hands if you’re married. If you’re unmarried you might even find it difficult to book a room together away from the tourist hubs.

South Africa: In South Africa it’s illegal for those under 16 to kiss in public – which has led to mass kiss-in protests by African youth. Older, more traditional generations will expect couples to control themselves in public, so while holding hands is considered fine a kiss and a cuddle might be going too far.

Image thanks to flickr user: harlanh

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