A little European affection goes a long way

August 24, 2009 by Jared Goralnick

sloppy kiss 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:

Technotheory Twitter

There were a fair number of responses.  One of them, on Facebook, caught my attention:

Sally Facebook

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.

Marta and I 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.

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12 Responses to “A little European affection goes a long way”


  1. Andre Blackman

    I’ve actually been seeing blog posts pop up more and more about this. It’s pretty much the way I try to live my life is to be warmer to people and sometimes shock them with a hug. Great stuff and welcome back Jared!

  2. Aaron Brazell

    True story!

    But you know I have to plug this post on Twitter with the quote:

    16 year old French boys with their shirts off made the night.


    Will be good to see you again bud.

  3. David

    Agreed, American culture is the pits.

  4. Tim Koelkebeck

    Hot chick there Jared! Were these platonic hugs and kisses you’re talking about?

  5. Chris

    Wait! You went away?! ;) jk. Sounds like you had a great time as usual. Affection doesn’t necessarily have to be romantic, and I think Europeans probably understand that better than Americans. That’s why you got that friendly-good-to-meet-you vibe.

  6. Jared Goralnick

    Thanks, Andre & Aaron, for the welcome back — see you both soon.

    David, well on the next trip maybe you’ll be able to come…


    Chris, let me know when you’re back in DC, k?

  7. Aaron

    Must. Not. Me-too. Doh!

    The tragedy is that underneath it all, everyone wants more affection in their lives. “Being professional” is a facade which makes social interaction easier and less soulful.

    We hold back because of what the Joneses might think, but they want a hug as much as we do!

    Welcome home Jared.

    Besos! :P

  8. Luc


    I’m with you on this one.

    People often ask me what I found different when I moved from Haiti to the USA and my answer is always this: I was shocked by the lack of affection and warmth that people show here.

    In high-school back in Haiti, every morning when you walk into school, you kiss every girl that you know when you pass by them, and you shake hands or hug your guy friends. Growing up in a society like that, it was a shock that my suitemates in college could walk into our first-year dorm and walk by me without even saying hi or acknowledging my presence by a smile or a hand gesture.

    9 years later, I learned to adapt but I still find it sad and even creepy at times…

  9. Jared Goralnick

    Thanks, Aaron! Especially agree about the “professionalism facade” making us “less soulful.” Well put!

    And Luc, really appreciate your perspective on how different things are here from where you grew up. I fully realize Spain is just one example and that there are places with varying degrees of affection and other cultural mannerisms with regard to how we approach each other physically. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to go through such a contrast for you. Yes, it can be “creepy” how alone some people’s distance can make us feel. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Elizabeth

    American culture? Quite the generalization! Southern hospitality makes me beg to differ. Beaucoup hugs, greeting strangers on the street, calling everyone “baby.” It’s not exactly straight up physical affection, but it is certainly an affectionate culture.

  11. Jared Goralnick

    I agree that it’s much better. Generally the warmer or more spread out an area, the more welcoming people tend to be. But I think there’s a difference between more camaraderie/politeness (which, even in Spain is greater outside of the cities) and straight-up physical affection (which is a constant cultural thing). There’s something about touch that’s just different. Nice hearing from you, Elizabeth.

  12. Jasmine

    I am from Barcelona but I live in the US, and I’m agree with you.
    I miss all this kisses and hugs from everybody, there people is affectionate, family, friends or people you just met, they will be hugging you and it’s a great feeling.
    Now that I live in the US, I miss this “abrazos y besos”, now I appreciate Spain and the culture more than never.
    Thank you for sharing this with us!

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