Kissing in public

Article published on Feb. 13, 2009
community published
Article published on Feb. 13, 2009
What does the "density" of public kissers reveal about the understanding of public and private in a society? And why it's more common in some countries than in others?No, I was not thinking of St. Valentine's day when I decided to write this post. However, as my other idea was "crime and fear", I thought, this can wait.
The background is, as I got out of my trolleybus on the way home yesterday, there was a couple on the bench near my bus stop. The girl was sitting on top of the guy, of course they were making out and looked really into it. Hmm. Brought back a lot of memories from Hungary. In Hungary it feels like it's a national sport to kiss in public. Just simple quick kissing would not have caught my attention, but it interested me (from an anthropological perspective) how and why people decide that it's absolutely cool to make out in subway stations or every means of public transport. My American friend once said, "I was looking around on the subway, and then this couple was in front of me, kissing. I accidentally caught the look of the girl - she had "bedroom eyes", and I felt very uncomfortable". Kissing in public (again, I mean, "serious" kissing) is always a transgression of the public-private distinction

So, what does the "density" of public kissers reveal about the understanding of public and private in a society? And why it's more common in some countries than in others? For many teenagers (again, those who have been in Hungary know that there people in their 40s do that too) kissing in public is a manifestation of their "I don't care what others think" stance. However, I'm convinced that it's exactly the opposite: kids who do it usually want to express this: "I care that others see that I don't care what they think." Yet this is not an universal explanation. The Hungarian society is so used to this that they just wouldn't notice. On the subway, you would typically want to show with all possible means: "I don't care that other people exist around me". Thus, in relation to couples kissing, it would turn into "I don't care that you care that I see that you don't care what I think." :}

Now, if public space is a space to observe others and to be observed, but others try hard to show you they don't notice that you exist, why make a difference? A subway station becomes a place where one can kiss whenever they want to, and however "seriously" they want to, just as they would do at home. It's not about "it's private, so it's not fun to be watched" or "It's much more fun precisely because people are watching" anymore. People don't watch - they'd rather do it themselves. It's fine for everybody as long as no noise is produced.

Of course, I'm not saying that kissing in public is bad as such, or that private and public should be strictly separated. The point I want to make is that public space is where you are inevitably with people, and everything you do is in communication with them. An implicit statement "I'm not communicating with you", or "I don't care what you think" is also communication. So, the communication between two becomes their joint communication with the others.

What do you think? Is kissing in public common in your country? Give me some feedback so that I know how many of you are reading my blog :)