Thursday, 31 May 2012

Foreign Flirtations

I am going on a limb mentioning flirtations again, dear poppets, since I caught a teeny bit of flak yesterday. I was reminded of those dire years in Boston when almost nobody at school got my jokes. It was horrible. What a blessing it is that I live in a land where a significant part of the population lives for jokes and sparkling conversation. In Edinburgh, my outrageously long cigarette holder excites admiration; in Boston it would have elicited only stony silence and then whispers in corners that I smoke.

N.B. I don't actually smoke. I stuff the occasional cigarillo into the end of my cigarette holder and puff on it without inhaling. Nineteen year olds may be forgiven; it is cravenly stupid for forty-somethings to get addicted to poisonous substances.

But my policy has long been that if I write about something that turns out to be unpleasantly controversial, then I must write about it again the next day. So I am going to write about holiday romances and other flirtations that are going to go absolutely nowhere.

Incidentally, by holiday romance I do not mean throwing all decency and modesty to the winds like certain female German or British tourists who lust after their Egyptian or Cretan or Cuban waiters and justify what happens next with a "Because I'm worth it," channeling whichever actress-model in the L'Oreal ad. Apparently there is a Greek resort town where a prize is given to the local man who has slept with the most foreign visitors that season. Charming.

No, by holiday romance I am thinking of situations in which you make friends while studying or vacationing abroad and feel particularly cherished or flattered by one of the friends who is a boy. Perhaps you feel bedazzled that, for the first time in your life, you hold a certain exotic glamour. It may never have occurred to you that anyone would ever think a girl from Rolling Prairie, Indiana wildly exotic, but once she goes crosses the border into Mexico, or crosses either ocean, she is.

My advice is to enjoy these feelings without taking them too seriously. Yes, easier said than done. If you are absolutely head-over-heels for Reinhardt, Diego, Aziz or whomever, get thee to a call centre and telephone your best or most sensible female friend back home to vent and sigh. Don't do anything stupid. Don't do anything you wouldn't do back home. That way, when you are an old lady you can smile pleasantly over that wonderful summer in Tubigen or San Ignacio or Fez instead of feeling wracked by guilt.

The fact is that although most people, especially young people, enjoy making attractive and exotic new friends, few people really want to leave behind their towns, families, friends, jobs, routines, infrastructures to start a new life in strange circumstances with an exotic stranger. We may dream of doing so, but it is actually a very serious and frightening thing to do. One might flirt with the idea, as one flirts with an attractive stranger, but most of the time, forget it. Most people are, by the very definition of that word, conventional.

If you keep a diary, write down lots of descriptive details (the sun, the cobblestones, the sudden, the shocking first glimpse of his thin, tanned, impossibly chic mother) so as to write a more saleable novel afterwards. Use loose sheets of paper to write out your feelings and then rip them up.

Distance makes a huge difference to the future of most foreign friendships. It is easier to keep up with friends in Europe, for example, if you live in Europe than if you live in Canada and the USA. There are sad cases of Europeans I know returning to old stomping grounds in Canada or the USA, hoping to rekindle the friendships of their fondly remembered student days, only to find that their ol' drinking buddies have moved to other cities or are simply too busy to see visiting European them. (North Americans, descendents of immigrants, tend to be more nomadic than other people. Europeans seem to hanker after their parents' villages whereas North Americans long to escape them forever.)

Culture makes a huge difference too, of course. Friendship, particularly friendship with members of the opposite sex, means different things in different countries. Oh, and to make life even more confusing, in some countries men think foreign women seem really masculine.

But to go back to flirtation, the essence of an enjoyable flirtation is that it is kept light and frothy, a part-time distraction from ordinary life, makes you laugh and never makes you cry. This, of course, means that making out is right out because, dear readers, the realities of brain chemistry mean that you will indeed regret it later. He, having a different kind of brain chemistry, might not, but you certainly will.

Unless you marry the man. This however is rather unlikely for the reasons I mentioned above, and a sport best left to unemployed madwomen in their late 30s.


sciencegirl said...

Maybe my prejudice against foreign flirting comes from my time in France, where decent men are gallant, but not flirtatious, with every woman, and uncouth men hit on them at bus stations. I made great friends with a Brazilian man there, and I think he may have tried flirting with me at one point, but it went over my head.

Catherine said...

Haha, I like the idea of writing out all of the details for a novel. But in some countries foreign women are considered masculine? I can only think this might be the case in Asia, where the women are much more small and fine-featured.

Rachel said...

Maybe you would rather answer this question another time, since it not so much related to the bulk of your post as to the first paragraph of it. If so, the answer can wait.

But I am wondering if you could say more about the differences between Boston culture (and specifically the culture of your school in Boston) and Edinburgh culture.

american in deutschland said...

You've hit it on the nose for me, Auntie Seraphic!

Seraphic said...

Oh, heavens. Boston and Edinburgh are like chalk and cheese. However, I was referring to the academic milieu I found myself in Boston, specifically, which might not have been a "Boston thing" but an "academic soi-distant Catholic theology thing" with uptight New England overtones.

That said, my best pal there was a local gal doing grad work in theology/religious studies herself, and she was not at all uptight.