The following post is an excerpt from http://www.sirc.org/publik/flirt.html
Flirting is most socially acceptable at parties, celebrations and social occasions/functions. At some such events (e.g. Christmas/New Year parties) a degree of flirtatious behaviour is not only socially sanctioned, but almost expected.
This is because most parties, celebrations, carnivals and festivals are governed by a special code of behaviour which anthropologists call ‘cultural remission’ – a temporary, structured relaxation of normal social controls and restrictions.
This might just sound like a fancy way of saying ‘letting your hair down’, but it isn’t. ‘Cultural remission’ does not mean abandoning all your inhibitions, letting rip and behaving exactly as you please. There are rules of behaviour at even the wildest carnival – although they may involve a complete reversal of normal, everyday social etiquette. Flirtatious behaviour which is normally frowned upon may be actively required, and prissy refusal to participate may incur disapproval.
Flirting is also socially acceptable in some public settings, usually where alcohol is served – such as bars, pubs, night-clubs, discos, wine bars, restaurants, etc. One survey showed that 27% of British couples first met their current partner in a pub, and alcohol was voted the most effective aid to flirting by respondents in the Martini Flirting Survey.
Flirting in drinking-places is, however, subject to more conditions and restrictions than at parties. In pubs, for example, the area around the bar counter is universally understood to be the ‘public zone’, where initiating conversation with a stranger is acceptable, whereas sitting at a table usually indicates a greater desire for privacy. Tables furthest from the bar counter are the most ‘private’ zones.
As a rule-of-thumb, the more food-oriented establishments or ‘zones’ tend to discourage flirting between strangers, while those dedicated to drinking or dancing offer more socially sanctioned flirting opportunities. Restaurants and food-oriented or ‘private’ zones within drinking-places are more conducive to flirting between established partners.
Schools, colleges, universities and other educational establishments are hot-beds of flirting. This is largely because they are full of young single people making their first attempts at mate selection.
Learning-places are also particularly conducive to flirting because the shared lifestyle and concerns of students, and the informal atmosphere, make it easy for them to initiate conversation with each other. Simply by being students, flirting partners automatically have a great deal in common, and do not need to struggle to find topics of mutual interest.
Flirting is officially somewhat more restricted in learning-places than in drinking-places, as education is supposed to take priority over purely social concerns, but in many cases the difference is not very noticeable. Taking a course or evening class may in fact provide more opportunities for relaxed, enjoyable flirting than frequenting bars and night-clubs.
At work, flirting is usually acceptable only in certain areas, with certain people and at specific times or occasions. There are no universal laws: each workplace or working environment has its own unwritten etiquette governing flirtatious behaviour.
In some companies, the coffee machine or cafeteria may be the unofficial ‘designated flirting zones’, other companies may frown on any flirting during office hours, or between managers and staff, while some may have a long-standing tradition of jokingly flirtatious morning greetings.
Careful observation of colleagues is the best way to discover the unspoken flirting etiquette of your own workplace – but make sure that you are guided by the behaviour of the most highly regarded individuals in the company, not the office ‘clown’, ‘groper’ or ‘bimbo’.
Almost any participant sport or hobby can involve flirting. The level of flirtatious behaviour, however, often tends to be inversely related to the standards achieved by participants and their enthusiasm for the activity.
You will generally find a lot of flirting among incompetent tennis players, unfit swimmers, cack-handed potters, etc., but somewhat less among more proficient, serious, competitive participants in the same activities. There are of course exceptions to this rule, but before joining a team or club, it is worth trying to find out if the members have burning ambitions to play in the national championships or win prestigious awards for their handiwork. If you are mainly looking for flirting opportunities, avoid these high-flying groups, and seek out clubs full of happy, sociable under-achievers.
Although they have the advantage of providing conversation topics of mutual interest, most sporting events and other spectator pastimes such as theatre or cinema are not particularly conducive to flirting, as social interaction is not the primary purpose of the occasion, and social contact may limited to a short interval or require ‘missing the action’.
The most striking exception to this rule is horseracing, where all the ‘action’ takes place in just a few minutes, the half-hour interval between races is dedicated to sociability, and friendly interaction between strangers is actively encouraged by racecourse etiquette. In fact, our own recent research on the behaviour of racegoers indicates that the ‘social micro-climate’ of the racecourse makes it one of the best flirting environments in Britain.