GW Expat: PDA, European-style

VIENNA — “Look at that! Could you ever imagine doing that? That’s so inappropriate,” my friend Emily said as we stood outside a restaurant in Vienna, Austria.

We were initially looking at the menu but were quickly distracted by the rather extreme public display of affection occurring in one of the booths closest to the entryway. A couple eating dinner in what would be considered a “nice” restaurant, were kissing and groping one another as if they were in the privacy of their own bedroom.

Studying abroad in Vienna is my first excursion abroad. Prior to my departure I was alerted to many things including the vast amounts of PDA I would encounter. I appreciated the heads-up but it would have been more helpful to know the extremity of the fondling I would be witnessing.

Exorbitant PDA is apparently just a part of everyday life in Vienna. It does not matter if you are on the subway, in a restaurant or standing on the street.

On several different occasions, I witnessed some rather intense physical contact on the Vienna railway system called the U-Bahn. By the time the train reached its next stop, these couples had progressed from harmless hugs and pecks on the cheek to practically sprawling out across the seats.

In my recent travels I have also seen similar behavior in Hungary. While sitting in a caf? in downtown Budapest, a group of us actually strained our necks in order to prevent from looking at the couple sitting at the table closest to us. They were fondling one another so intensely you would think it was their last day to live. The man actually moved his chair around the table so he could grab and kiss his lady friend with greater ease.

What is interesting is that in both the restaurant in Vienna and the caf? in Budapest, the waiters never reacted to the PDA but instead treated it as though it was completely normal. Both waiters took and delivered the customers’ orders without hesitation or even the slightest sign of discomfort.

In the United States, such extreme physical contact may be seen in bars or nightclubs, never at a nice restaurant or a caf?. If such groping did occur, it would not necessarily be stopped, but those displaying such extreme affection would receive many nasty scowls and comments concerning their inappropriate behavior and how they should “get a room.”

It is customary to keep actions of a more sexual nature private and most certainly separate from everyday public life in the U.S. On the contrary, Europeans are accustomed to seeing nudity in an orange juice commercial. In the U.S. it is common to see a couple cuddling on a park bench, perhaps even sharing a little kiss. But it is certainly not common to witness a couple lying down in a restaurant booth.

It is commonplace for U.S. schools to place appropriateness clauses in their general code of conduct. Such restrictions concerning indecent behavior may include anything from holding hands to necking in the stairwell.

Clearly, this entire issue revolves around cultural norms. Some say it is a question of morality, but in my opinion Europeans are simply more comfortable with themselves, their personal lives and their sexuality on a whole. They flaunt their physical inhibitions like peacocks trying to mate, while American couples sheepishly draw the line at holding hands or a quick closed-mouth kiss. Being accustomed to American social norms, I am certainly not prepared to “do as the Romans do” and allow people into my personal intimate life. However, I must say I admire Europeans and believe their lack of reserve to be a positive quality, no matter how abnormal it may seem.

Junior Megan Marinos, a communication major, international affairs minor and Hatchet staff writer, is spending the fall semester in Vienna, Austria.

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