We need a hug alternative
I’m not a natural hugger. The country in which I was raised is crowded and as a result, the concept of personal space is ingrained from birth. Sure we hug relatives at Christmas, and parents hug their children but the hug, as I was raised, is for close or related friends. Oh and grandmothers.
In the US, the hug is an all inclusive activity. Something I was schooled on when, 3 years ago, my new boss greeted me with a smile and a hug. I immediately assumed a) he’s an escaped lunatic or b) he’s trying to get in my pants. The jury is still out on a) but I do now know that his hug isn’t that big of a deal in the US.. its just a form of greeting and is often exchanged by people who don’t really know each other.
Which is just WEIRD.
Lets consider the act. You are wrapping your arms around another human being, bringing your body close together.. and if you’re a women, boobs may be smashed against the other chest (which may have its own boobs). Genitals are mere inches apart and you feel each other’s body.
Its so not right to happen in a work context.
I don’t need you to know what my boobs feel like, or how deep my back fat goes, or feel any kind of rise of temperature in the pants department as a form of greeting. A handshake is perfectly adequate and I can always wash my hands (whereas the feel of man boobs pressed against mine remains forever). So why is it acceptable, nay, expected in the workplace these days?
In the UK, we greet each other with a handshake.That covers everyone from a stranger to your boss to potential new friend at a party who you’ve just met or even your parents (hey we’re not a family of huggers). You greet or welcome someone with a handshake. You might… might... part with a hug (if you’ve imbibed a lot of alcohol, broken down crying when recounting your last boyfriends departure or shared the news of your impending colonoscopy since you met)… but its not a given. A British hug means something. It means ‘I get you’ or ‘ I like you’ or ‘I think you need cheering up’. It is never a way to introduce yourself. (unless you are that escaped lunatic or frisky man dog I previously mentioned). We tend to reserve it for a friend you haven’t seen a years, a family member who is walking towards you arms outstretched or potentially someone who just won a major award. Like a Nobel peace prize (BAFTAs and Pulitzer winners get a gentle clap). And even then… even then.. there’s an awkward pause before going in for the hug.. the ‘should I?’ ‘do I have to?’ ‘for England’ mental considerations. I tell you, we Brits really don’t do take hugs lightly in a non familial context.
Instead we have lots of alternatives. The arm punch (suitable for team mates, coworkers, men in the pub ..or me); the one arm shoulder hug – avoids bodies getting too close, but conveys some warmth and if you’re feeling extra friendly, men can do the handshake/ backslap combo and women, the hand shake coupled with an arm touch. These alternatives recognize a connection but could never be construed as uncomfortable or weird in the workplace or socially. They can be greetings or farewells, but they’re low stress and, at least in the UK, all totally acceptable for any occasion. Workplace, funeral, wedding, first date…
But, since I now live in the US, I am thwarted at every attempt to shoulder hug, arm pat or shake hands. I am greeted with looks of confusion, and most often, get pulled forward into a hug whether I want to or not. My proffered hand shakes are taken as rude or cold, and the arm pats/ shoulder hugs seen as awkward and ‘standoffish’. One person just stood at gawped at my outstretched hand as though he didn’t know what to do with it. I actually had to reach for his hand and grasp it, shaking it like a noodle as he looked bemused. Yes, its a handshake. Its what civilized people with personal space issues who don’t know you do to say hello. It won’t kill you. Where as hugging you… well it may kill me.
So now I mostly suck it up and take the hug. My toes curl and I generally hold on with the strength of a lettuce leaf, but at least the other person isn’t questioning my integrity or character. In true British fashion I don’t want anyone to be embarrassed and if my boss, my first date or that woman I’ve just met wants to smush my boobs… well have at it.
In the meantime my search for a socially acceptable greeting activity continues.. the only rule being that genitals remain far away from each other and nobody’s boobs get smushed. How about a salute?