The greeting rules have gotten complicated over the last few decades. It used to be so simple. You were introduced to someone, if it was a man, you shook hands, if it was a woman you nodded your head or doffed your hat. (I had to look that one up in the dictionary, to see if I got it right. I did, for a change – to doff ones’ hat, is to remove it or tip it in acknowledgement, a greeting.) I don’t usually wear a hat, so I’ve never done it myself.
Shaking hands with women was the first change. A nice one. An equality thing that eliminated men from feeling stupid or awkward when introduced to women. We no longer had to stand there like an idiot, nodding or doffing a hat. And, it was easier than shaking hands with a man, where you had to be prepared for the other guy to go macho, and try to squeeze hard when you weren’t ready, bringing you to your knees. With women, the civilized gender, you just shake and be done with it.
Then came the hug thing. Who and when to hug? It started as a family thing, a perfectly legitimate expression of affection. Then, it grew, from family to close friends to introductions to new people. Some of them initiate a hug, some don’t. Eventually, it settled into an unwritten rule: don’t hug when you first meet, but if you feel a closeness after spending time with the person(s), a hug is appropriate, even recommended.
Then the “guy hug” thing took off. And, of course, with men involved, it became a competition. The tight gorilla squeeze, the pick the other guy up, the hug from behind with a Ha Ha strangle gesture, the armless hug with two guys jumping in the air and bumping chests, not to mention the fist bumps, hand slaps and all the rest of the nonsense that emerged. The recommended protocol now, is to initiate the hug with a right to right hand shake, lean in and clasp your left arm around the other guy’s right shoulder, pull him in and then lightly slap his left upper back two times. You need to practice to get it right. I mess it up most of the time.
Then there’s the cheek kiss, the air kiss and the cheek to cheek brush. The problem with these greetings is that neither party knows what the other party is going to do and the encounter often goes awry. It might be wise to step back and ask, “Are you an air kisser, side mouth cheek kisser, cheek brusher? And, do you go right cheek to right cheek or left to left?” This is why you often see an old coot like me, standing in the background, trying to figure out who’s doing what or just standing there like an idiot nodding his head and smiling. I guess I’m not quite there yet.
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