How PDA is perceived in Spain vs. US

Paula Martin

Born and raised in Madrid, I have found that being touchy and feely with people who are considered only friends or acquaintances is the norm in Spain—but this does not occur in America. 

Greetings are naturally more intimate in Europe, which could be an influential factor. However, after four years living in the U.S., my analysis of it is that it is related to the fact that Spain does not have the idea of public displays of affection (PDA). 

Since the term is not a part of the population’s vocabulary, public affection does not cause a reaction among the people watching, which does happen here. In the American culture, touchiness and affection are perceived to be linked to romantic or familial relationships and/or sexual attraction.

Therefore, the idea of PDA automatically makes one question whether affection in public is acceptable. In Spain, two people making out on the subway is looked at with casual indifference. 

However, when I encounter friends from Spain around campus and we greet each other with one kiss on each cheek, eyebrows are instantly raised. Why does it seem less embarrassing to show passionate gestures at an airport or train station? 

There are many physical and emotional effects related to being a warm individual. Kory Floyd, a researcher and professor at Arizona State University, claims that “affection can be a simple, non-pharmaceutical, cheap way to reduce stress.” 

Affectionate gestures can also be a way of reassuring people that there are individuals who care about them. According to Christopher Barquero of The Huffington Post, individuals who show higher levels of warmth toward others tend to be less susceptible to depression and have healthier levels of the hormone Cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone.” Barquero also expressed that warmer individuals are less likely to isolate themselves from others during hard times. 

If PDA were not an established idea in society, would we still overlook affection? Being less judgmental about PDA could lead to higher levels of warmth, which would provide enormous health benefits.