Before the holiday weekend I’d spent a few weeks not feeling well without anything exciting happening, so I wondered what on earth I could write about today. Then something happened during my visit to the doctor. I had to go to the lab for a couple of tests, and while I’m there the guy checking people in started hitting on me! I politely chatted with him for a bit, and then he asked if I wanted to go grab a cup of coffee. I replied, “Um, I’m sick, that’s why I’m here, so I think I’m just going to go home.”
Now this was a decent looking guy who I’m sure could get women, and I was dressed in ripped jeans, a ragged t-shirt I’ve had since college, my hair unwashed, and no makeup whatsoever. I don’t get it.
But it made me start thinking about flirtation styles, especially cultural differences among men and women around the world. I remember one day when I lived in France. I was walking home from work and a car slowed down on the street next to me. A beautiful man rolled down his window and said to me, “you would make my day if you gave me just one smile.” I couldn’t help it – I laughed and smiled. He said, “Ah, merci ma belle,” and then drove off. That was it! And it made me feel great. That’s definitely the French for you – suave, romantic, and generally charismatic.
By contrast, look at some of the Italians. While there I had one man approach me at a club and lick my shoulder, had several men lean out of car windows to pinch me (you can proabbly guess where), and even had a little, wrinkled old man shuffle down the street after me shouting, “Ciao, bella bionda (beautiful blonde)” while playing with a certain part of his anatomy. Of course there’s another side of the Italian machismo as well that I remember from a story my dad told me. He was on a business trip in Italy and had been waiting for ages for a break in traffic to cross a busy street. Then an attractive female colleague came up beside him and suddenly a car slammed on its breaks, screeched to a halt, and a man leaned out the window to say “Prima la donna” (essentially, “Ladies first”).
Obviously I can’t speak with authority about the styles of women in other countries, so I’m curious to hear what my male readers have to say about that if any of you have noticed differences. And any of you, male or female, who live outside of the U.S. please add your own observations!
Some signals are relatively universal in the Western world. Interested women tend to smile, arch their brows to make their eyes look bigger, tuck their chins down slightly, lick their lips, sway their backs (often helped by high heels), and periodically avert their gazes submissively. Men arch their bodies to puff out their chests, make large hand gestures that subconsciously indicate dominance, point their chins, and swagger. Both men and women tend to put their palms up on the table or their knees, and eventually find excuses to touch one another and move their heads closer together.
Last year a big study came out on flirtation, with researchers at the University of Kansas conducting a survey of over 5,000 people. They found five communication styles people use when talking to someone with whom they could have romantic interest: playful, traditional, physical, sincere, and polite. Apparently “polite” women say they don’t really enjoy getting hit on (it’s not flattering to them), but at the same time complain they have trouble getting men to notice them. However playful flirts often complain they attract men simply looking for one-night-stands or short-term flings. Most people do use a mix of styles, but one of the five tends to dominate.
The survey consisted of a series of statements that participants had to rate on a scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree,” such as “Men should make the first move” (traditional flirts tend to agree with this one) to “Flirting can be harmless fun” (a statement with which playful flirts tend to agree), or “There are rules about how men and women should conduct themselves” (the domain of polite flirts). Physical flirts agree with “I am good at showing my sexual interest” while sincere flirts strongly agree with “Making a real connection with others can be exciting.”
Playful and physical flirts tend to be extroverts while traditional flirts can be more neurotic and more likely to misunderstand someone’s behavior as being flirtatious when it’s not meant that way. Similarly, playful flirts often get accused of flirting even when they don’t mean to.
What are your thoughts on the various flirtation styles, especially among different cultures? Any funny misunderstandings or happy success stories?
I’ll leave you with one last funny anecdote as food for thought, although this flirtatious misunderstanding was caused by a language barrier rather than communication styles. When I was 17 I went to France on a 3-week exchange student program. A cute French boy was flirting with me, but I had a boyfriend back home so I tried to tell him “I wish I could kiss you.” Now the word “un baiser” in French means “a kiss.” But the verb “baiser” doesn’t mean “to kiss” – it’s slang for “to f***” (yes, it’s a dirty word – I’m sure you can figure out which one). So my innocent statement of “I wish I could kiss you” turned into the far less innocent “I wish I could f*** you.” Luckily the French girl I was staying with overheard our conversation and, busting up laughing, rushed over to clear up the misunderstanding.