Signs you might be abroad: How to navigate love overseas

Jackie Verrecchia and Ashley Mulryan

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With Valentine’s day occurring last week we could not help but think back to the love we experienced while abroad. Affection in Mexico was in your face for Ashley, while it was rarely seen by Jackie in India.

When people think of Latin culture, a common illustration appears: a sultry man, maybe with the face of Enrique Iglesias, one extra button undone on a white button up (the infamous “Latin button”), sporting perfect salsa dance moves and gelled hair. A lot of that has to do machismo, and that is a topic of conversation for another column. This Latin Man may have been the main character of many a Valentine’s Day commercial this year. Love in Latin American culture is, of course, not so cookie cutter (although the Latin button really does exist).

By day, Mexican university students are just like you and me, but they typically are in relationships. When the sun starts to go down in Mexico, a strange thing begins to happen. The couples who were already annoying and lovey-dovey all day flock to the parks. Some of these parks are barely larger than a North Village II double. Even if they only have four benches, at least three of these benches are taken up by couples kissing (read: sucking face).

A daily fear of Ashley’s walking home from the bus stop in the dark after her late-night classes was not that she would be kidnapped, but instead that she would find one of her host brothers (ages 15 and 20) sitting at the park near her house making out with a girlfriend. Because the American in her was screaming at all of these couples publicly showing their infatuation to “get a room.”

Alas, here is another teachable moment regarding cultural values. When Mexicans see these young couples (ages 15 to 25) out in public, “all tangled up” bile does not start to rise in their throats. Instead, they think of when they, too, were young and in love, smile and move on with their lives while the outsiders stare uncomfortably.

Why the romantic behavior? Mexicans live with their parents until they are in their late 20s or married.  Couples do not physically engage in the house; in fact in the more traditional family households the significant other is not allowed past the dining room slash living room and even then that is rare. Therefore, all courting must take place outside of the house. The young couples typically go on strolls or they “dar la vuelta,” which literally translates to “give the turn.”

In India there are two types of marriages: romantic and arranged. In more urban areas romantic marriages are common, but in rural areas arranged marriages are the norm. Jackie lived in Bangalore so she mostly came across love marriages or love relationships.

But even in a metropolitan area with 8.5 million people, love was rarely seen. In India people generally do not touch each other, even when greeting, so you could never know if people were on a date or in love because there was never physical affection.

Additionally, men and women did not socialize together in public unless they were married. If you were looking to fall in love it would be challenging, as you could not be in public together.

Love in India was a private matter and nothing like a Bollywood movie. Jackie often read the Sunday marriage ads in the local newspaper. There were often more than a hundred ads, for individuals or families seeking a partner. Reading these ads showed that both sexes want a partner that makes a lot of money and is highly educated—something Americans typically want.

As a foreigner, Jackie still does not understand how people fall in love in India in metropolitan areas when there are such strict cultural norms regarding how people interact with each other. But she has a feeling that there was a lot she simply did not see.