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Flirting is much more than just a bit of fun: it is a universal and essential aspect of human interaction.
Anthropological research shows that flirting is to be found, in some form, in all cultures and societies around the world.
Flirting is a basic instinct, part of human nature.
We generally obey these unofficial laws instinctively, without being conscious of doing so.
We only become aware of the rules when someone commits a breach of this etiquette – by flirting with the wrong person, perhaps, or at an inappropriate time or place.
Chatting up a widow at her husband's funeral, for example, would at the very least incur disapproval, if not serious distress or anger.
This is a very obvious example, but the more complex and subtle aspects of flirting etiquette can be confusing – and most of us have made a few embarrassing mistakes.
Research shows that men find it particularly difficult to interpret the more subtle cues in women's body-language, and tend to mistake friendliness for sexual interest.
Another problem is that in some rather Puritanical cultures, such as Britain and North America, flirting has acquired a bad name.