Singing, Dancing—and Eroticism, Around the World

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I’m teaching this week in Buenos Aries, Argentina.

It’s still warm here (it’s their autumn), and the streets of this cosmopolitan metropolis (13,000,000 people) are filled, day and night. The Portenyos (residents) are both passionate and physical; for starters, men and women walk with a casual, confident air, moving their hips, tossing their hair about. They hug and kiss each other on the street. No matter where you go, there’s always several couples making out.

The habits of the locals here are very, very different from those in Vietnam.

If you followed my trip there in January, you’ll recall how much I enjoyed the country. You’ll also recall that the Vietnamese people are rather modest: the women rarely show any cleavage, and outside of Saigon, not much of anything else, either.

In three weeks in Vietnam, I never saw a single couple kiss. The only people holding hands were tourists. The Vietnamese walk with quiet bodies. Nobody’s flaunting anything, even when they’re courting.

Although it’s begun to change in the big cities, the Vietnamese are still committed to no-sex-before-marriage. In Argentina, on the other hand, less than 20% of the brides are virgins. Quite a difference.

Here’s the clincher. What do the Argentines do after hours and on weekends? Tango. The women dress to kill, showing their legs (and backs and shoulders) with fierce pride. The men must hold the women very, very close, and the women are expected to lean into the embrace. And I’m not just talking about couples who have been together for a while. Seven nights per week, single Argentines go to Milanga—night clubs where strangers meet to tango together. And do they tango! As my uncle used to say, a vertical expression of a horizontal intention.

There’s no excess drinking there either—you can’t tango when you’re wasted.

And what do they do in Vietnam at night and on weekends? Large groups of people (often men only) go to karaoke. The drink heavily (especially the men), and passionately croon out pop songs. As the evening continues, so does the drinking, and so does the passion—for the songs, and for one’s pals. At evening’s end, everyone goes home to their own apartment.

In Argentina, some people go home alone, others go home with a new partner. Either way, they’ve spent the evening dancing the tango. Living the tango.

It’s not better, it’s just different.

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