Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Love in the Time of Concrete (or In Defense of PDA)

FYI: The Santiago Times, which you probably haven’t read if you’re not my mom, has a radio station that my mom can also tell you about. The station, just like the newspaper, is staffed by plucky interns from a handful of countries. A few weeks ago, one of them moderated a discussion program in which my fellow interns and I were asked to sound off on different aspects of life as a gringo in Chile. After griping about the Transantiago transportation system, we moved onto a juicier topic: Chileans’ notorious predilection for public displays of affection.

Anyone who’s spent more than thirty seconds in a Santiago park has seen them: young couples so crazy for each other that they want to shout it from a mountaintop. However, since reaching nearby mountaintops frequently involves putting chains on tires, they settle for shouting it from park benches, bus stops, and especially grass, where it’s not uncommon to see pairs of sweethearts lying on top of each other exchanging saliva.

Hearing foreigners react with disgust to this uninhibited PDA is almost as common as hearing them (us) marvel at how clean Santiago’s metro is. Sure, it’s not uncommon to stumble across a public make-out session every once in awhile in the United States. In fact, I doubt many people from the U.S. would be able to honestly deny having participated in some good old-fashioned PDA. Nevertheless, I see far more pairs of intertwined tongues on a typical day in Santiago than I do stateside.

As we sipped beer and passed the microphones around, we debated various explanations of both Chilean PDA and the reaction it tends to provoke in gringos. It was suggested that Chilean young adults, who oftentimes live with their parents until ages that would be considered socially unacceptable by many in the United States, find more privacy in parks and plazas than they do at home. Someone else said we from the U.S., true to our Puritan cultural heritage, are hopeless prudes. Or are we just jealous?

We didn’t reach any definitive conclusions; it appears that the issue will have to be resolved through future academic inquiry. The conversation, in any case, got me thinking about Chilean PDA in all its saliva-soaked glory.

Except for the time when I passed a couple going all the way in the front seat of their car (my eyes are still burning a little), most of the romantic action I’ve seen on the streets of Santiago—and under them, as the corners of Metro cars are hot real estate for public snoggers—has been strictly PG-13. The only thing remarkable about it, in my opinion, is how often it happens. Then again, some of my friends’ experiences haven’t been as family-friendly as mine (think hands under clothing).

All hands, fortunately, were visible when I recently came across a young couple at one of Santiago’s major transportation terminals. Rush hour tension was high as flustered commuters lined up to shove their way onto buses. The only people seemingly unaffected by the prevailing anxiety were the two lovebirds, who cuddled in peaceful oblivion while waiting for their bus.

An experience I had a few days later brought the couple to mind. As I was crossing the street, a polite driver stopped to let me pass. This was apparently outrageous for the driver behind him, who squealed to a stop and laid on the horn (next entry: How many clichéd driving phrases can Leigh fit into one sentence?). The contrast between the impatient driver’s road rage and the couple’s tranquility was a stark a one as I had seen in a long time.

The episode made me consider all the things that, unlike PDA, are considered publicly acceptable. We shout, insult and flick off. As I was biking home from my internship the other day, I saw four men lined up next to each other peeing on the same wall. When you consider all the other things we do out in the open, is French kissing really that bad?

I don’t think so. So, the next time you feel the urge to run someone off the road because he or she has stopped for a pedestrian, do everyone a favor and go find someone to make out with.

1 comment:

noel said...

Hey, it sounds like your mom knows a lot about a lot of things! PDA a possible exception...