Communications theorist Paul Watzlawick used this situation, where "both American soldiers and British girls accused one another of being sexually brash", as an example of differences in "punctuation" in interpersonal communications.
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In most cultures, it is socially disapproved for a person to make explicit sexual advances in public, or in private to someone not romantically acquainted, but indirect or suggestive advances (i.e. Flirting usually involves speaking and behaving in a way that suggests a mildly greater intimacy than the actual relationship between the parties would justify, though within the rules of social etiquette, which generally disapproves of a direct expression of sexual interest in the given setting.
This may be accomplished by communicating a sense of playfulness or irony.
Double entendres, with one meaning more formally appropriate and another more suggestive, may be used.
While old-fashioned, this expression is still used in French, often mockingly, but the English gallicism to flirt has made its way and has now become an anglicism.
During World War II, anthropologist Margaret Mead was working in Britain for the British Ministry of Information and later for the U. Office of War Information, She observed in the flirtations between the American soldiers and British women a pattern of misunderstandings regarding who is supposed to take which initiative.
She wrote of the Americans, "The boy learns to make advances and rely upon the girl to repulse them whenever they are inappropriate to the state of feeling between the pair", as contrasted to the British, where "the girl is reared to depend upon a slight barrier of chilliness...which the boys learn to respect, and for the rest to rely upon the men to approach or advance, as warranted by the situation." This resulted, for example, in British women interpreting an American soldier's gregariousness as something more intimate or serious than he had intended.Body language can include flicking the hair, eye contact, brief touching, open stances, proximity, etc.Verbal communication of interest can include alterations in vocal tone, such as pace, volume, and intonation.Challenges (teasing, questions, qualifying, feigned disinterest) serve to increase tension and test intention and congruity.Flirting behavior varies across cultures due to different modes of social etiquette, such as how closely people should stand (proxemics), how long to hold eye contact, how much touching is appropriate and so forth. For example, ethologist Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt found that in places as different as Africa and North America, women exhibit similar flirting behavior, such as a prolonged stare followed by a head tilt away with a little smile. The Oxford English Dictionary (first edition) associates it with such onomatopoeic words as flit and flick, emphasizing a lack of seriousness; on the other hand, it has been attributed to the old French conter fleurette, which means "to (try to) seduce" by the dropping of flower petals, that is, "to speak sweet nothings".