OPINION: Flirting can be friendly, not a prelude to sex

WHEN is friendliness seen as flirting? And when is flirting more than flirting because either party thinks it's a major come-on? I think we have a pretty big problem with flirting in Australia. It's not seen as good manners as it is in Europe. It's always sexualised.

In Italy, you could be 90 years old and walk into the butcher's shop and they would cry out Bella! And proceed with comments about how wonderful you look and what is it you would like with your sausages?

But in Australia, land of the rugged bloke and the blonde, busty sheila, we save that kind of thing for someone we want to have sex with. Simply put, telling a complete stranger that they look beautiful, or giving them a bit of a wink and nudge is not on because we see it as a prelude to sex.

We're not touchy feely. And if we are, and we're a guy, we're gay or, if we're a woman, well, we're asking for it, really.

This rather prudish idea of physical or emotional contact has landed me in trouble a few times. There was the vet's wife who called me to ask if I was having an affair with her husband because one of the nurses reported that we seemed to have a laugh or a flirt with each other. Ridiculous, yes. But obviously I should have become suspicious by the fact he was Australian and knew how to flirt. I've also been sexually harassed by a senior citizen who thought that my holding his arm was a signal I wanted a relationship and friends tell me their friendliness has landed them in similar trouble. One was even invited for a threesome. Even my sister, who runs a clothing shop where men are required to take off their trousers for a fitting, tells me that she is regularly propositioned by 70-year-olds up.

Ironically while Aussies may take all the wrong cues from harmless interaction, at the same time they are the highest users of the cheating site Ashley Madison.

So this week I have a little exercise for you. I'd like you to say something complimentary to someone of the opposite sex who serves you in a shop. I'd also like you to hug or kiss an acquaintance when you see them.

I want you to consider both of these things good manners and not sexual at all. More about saying I know you are alive and I'm sending out some good cheer and some love.

Ah, la dolce vita huh! Bella!