So I just recently moved to Hamburg, Germany, and am trying to figure out what means what around here. Are Germans really less flirty than people from other countries? Are girls really supposed to make the first move? Well, I do not have (nor do I necessarily intend to gather) representative data on the subject, but having lived most of my life in Hungary, a few years in the States, and two years in France, I do have some general observations to share.
The problem with moving to a new country, well, one of the problems, is that you just don’t know what things mean. My classic example for this issue is winking – while people have different opinions about what winking means even within same country, there is definitely a huge difference in frequency (measured in winks/day?) from one country to another. Hungarian people don’t really wink in my experience, unless maybe when they are conspiring about some super secret plan, and even then it’s meant to be ironical. (Winks/ day) = 0.001. French people on the other hand, at least in the South of France, where I used to live, loooove winking. The boys, anyway. (Winks/ day) = 100 or so. BUT, and here’s the catch, no matter how much you feel eye-raped by the gesture, it is barely sexual at all. Not that guys wink at each other so much, but a wink in itself, or five within the same sentence (I’ve seen it happen!!!) does not in itself mean a sexual suggestion. For them, it is meant to be playful and cute. For me, it is something that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up! Oh well. BTW, here is an excellent video from Natalie Tran (CommunityChannel) contemplating winking.
Another thing that can be confusing is how nice certain people from certain countries can be with NO ulterior motive. A good example is a friend of mine from the Mid-West, a part of the US where people are famously nice. When he first came to Budapest, he would talk to strangers on the metro and such, you know, as you do…. Eh, well certainly not in Hungary, and from what I’ve gathered so far, not in Germany either, without being taken for a rapist. Poor friend of mine, he was just trying to pass the time on the train…
And while I’m at it, there’s of course the ever so awkward question of how to say hello! A kiss on the cheek? Two? Three? None? A handshake? God forbid, a hug (not uncommon among American people, but I got greeted with a hug the other day by a German guy, a friend of my flatmate’s, who I barely know). The simple daily routine of meeting people can make you terribly uncomfortable and confused. I usually just wave.