I’m flying back now from 7 weeks in Barcelona, and the one greeting I’m looking forward to is my dog’s. That’s because we Americans suck at affection.
I’m taking a step back from productivity to pass on the most important lesson that Spain has offered me.
Last night (well, when I first wrote this post, it was last night) I tweeted the following:
There were a fair number of responses. One of them, on Facebook, caught my attention:
That comment summed up how our country’s trust and affection have devolved over the course of my life. Coming from a woman, and a friend from dance, was particularly poignant for me. Didn’t make me want to come home.
There are many things I love about Barcelona, but the thing that caught my eye on my first trip was the way the dancers treated me. People I didn’t know would smile and hold eye contact. With every guy-girl introduction there were two kisses, and even the guys were affectionate.
This wasn’t just swing dancers, and it’s not just Barcelona. When Tim and I went to Neffies (a small village in southern France), we witnessed something you’d never see in the US: a bunch of teenage guys, many with their shirts off, dancing together (and yes there will girls, too—it was all part of a local celebration outside). If you’ve ever been to a high school in the US, guys hardly dance, let alone together, and they definitely won’t be touching one another. Tim and I didn’t speak a word of French, and we had no ties to the group, but they put their arms on our shoulders and we pretended to sing along while we danced. It was surreal. Yep, 16 year old French boys with their shirts off made the night.
Every time I came back to my apartment I got a big hug and kisses from my flatmate. People I met the week before sent SMS messages full of abrazos and besos. Every place you entered brought you an “hola, buenos días”.
Call it what you want, but warmth and affection—cultural, familial, or romantic—feels damn good.
Swing dance in the US is less interesting to me these days because it’s harder to get a smile, to hold eye contact, to share any interest that could be misconstrued. And most of my world is even more structured and businesslike.
I wrote back to Sally:
Affection means something even when it’s shared with many. It may be different, but that doesn’t make it insignificant."
The busier we get, the more we dull and shorten our pleasantries. The older we grow, the more reserved our greetings and affection become. Think back: we weren’t always this way. You can probably remember some specific instances where you learned to be more reserved, “not to send the wrong message.”
I’ve grown up in the class of people who stopped signing letters with Love, who separated work from life, who hasn’t hugged half their friends.
But I’m putting my foot down. We don’t need a Facebook group for Hug Day to offer affection. We do need more than wagging tails and wet noses. Consider offering more affection with everyone you see regularly. Flirt a little, smile a lot, lose your American self a little, and open your arms.