MEXICO CITY — This is Chapstick territory.
People are kissing everywhere you look — in the plaza, on the metro, at noon, at night.
In the grocery store, a couple totter down the aisle in a bear hug, stopping for a moment to look at shampoo and re-adjust their grip.
"We're more warm-blooded than Americans," said Ruperto Mendoza, 29, "We show what we feel for the other person."
His girlfriend of two months, Manuela Martinez, 29, agreed.
Everyone makes out in the town plaza on Saturdays, she said. "The dark places are the best," Mendoza giggled.
Martinez tapped him gently to scold him, "Ruperto!"
Mexicans are very affectionate, said Guadalupe Loaeza, who writes on cultural affairs for La Reforma newspaper and had authored 20 books, including "I Shop, Therefore I Am." "We like to express ourselves."
There is a certain natural cordiality here, she said. People will tell you, "'Look at how beautiful your hair is. You're so gorgeous!' — We're very complimentary."
On the metro, young men and women rest their heads on their partner's lap and take snoozes.
Further down the train, a conservatively dressed young woman slips her hands up her boyfriend's shirt and sucks face for a good half-hour. It dawns on me that perhaps this is why there are about 22 million people in this city.
The kids are much freer today than they were a generation ago, journalist Loaeza said. There's a big generation gap. Television has a lot to do with girls wearing short skirts, sandals and off-the-shoulder T-shirts, she said.
Mexico is still very conservative and Catholic. Young people have a different set of behaviors in front of their parents. "The myth of respect," Loaeza said.
In the plaza it's a different story.
"We don't really care what anyone thinks," said Rodrigo Areas, 21, who came up for air after an ardent smooching session with his girlfriend of one week, Laura Tellez, 20.
"Here this is very normal. There's nothing wrong with it."
Does the kissing stop after the courtship is over and the vows are exchanged?
No, said Loaeza. Just look at the senior citizen dances. People in their 60s and 70s are out on the dance floor having a great time, she said.
"I believe it has to do with the food — the chilies, the corn," Loaeza said.
Octavio Paz wrote a wonderful essay about the differences in the sensuality of Mexican food versus American food — the color, the variety, the heat, Loaeza said.
In Mexico, there's a word, "cachondo," Loaeza said, which literally means to be in heat but also means to live sensually.
These kids are "cachondeando," or enjoying the heat, she said.
Around the corner on another park bench, Monica Martinez, 27, holds her eyeshadow in her outstretched hand as boyfriend Julio Gutierrez, 27, hugs her to within an inch of her life. As soon as he tires, she readjusts herself and applies the eyeshadow. This ritual continues as she does her eye pencil, lip pencil, lipstick and mascara.
Finally, her makeup is done.
"She's so beautiful," Gutierrez sighed.
Mary Lou Pickel's e-mail address is mpickel(at)coxnews.com