I have always heard that in Spain, it is typical for strangers to greet each other by cheek kissing, but I was in for a surprise. When my host mother’s sons and their girlfriends greeted my housemate and I, I was not so shocked that they cheek kissed us. To me, it was a polite thing to return the gesture. My host brother told me Spanish guys are very different from American guys because they are more courteous to women and know how to show more affection. Cheek kissing for greetings wasn’t all the affections my host brothers showed affection around the house.
Every Sunday, my host mother’s children came for lunch. They were never alone. Their girlfriends come in and eat like they are all family, officially married. It was already uncomfortable enough for me to sit at the table and not understand a single thing they were talking about. Occasionally they would look at me and say a couple things in Spanish, slowly, to try to make me feel like I’m a part of the lunch.
At the table, throughout lunch, the couples would kiss in very deep kisses at the lunch table. I remember back in the United States, at school there was always video clips from the school announcement stating “PDA is not okay” so students would not be showing public displays of affection. In my family, coming from a traditional Hmong family, PDA was never okay. It wasn’t okay when you are alone with your significant other, you should not be doing anything while eating (and that included holding hands under the table), and you were practically not allowed to sit next to each other in the living room. Of course, culture to culture, the Western cultures seem to accept PDA a bit more than my culture did. However, in Spain it seemed to be totally fine to show PDA. The host brothers will kiss their girlfriends in front of their mom.
It seems like an odd subject to be talking about, but my housemate and I were talking about it the other day. It was very shocking for both of us to see that, considering we came to Spain with the impression that the only similar type of PDA is cheek kissing. When we ride in the metro, there would be couples who are in their own world. When we were walking, couples would walk and stop in the middle of the block to share a kiss. I remembered back at home in Oshkosh, I never saw any of these things happening. Of course Oshkosh doesn’t have a metro, but the bus stations were always empty. Couples went to the park or walked around together, but only held hands. My host brother told me that it is a typical thing for couples to share affection in public. I was shocked when I found out, thinking that should be set for private time. I am still shocked and it’s still hard to really realize that PDA is more okay in Spain than in my town and my culture.
Mai Nou Yang is studying abroad at Universidad Nebrija in Madrid, Spain.