One of my pet peeves is the increasingly common phenomenon of strangers hugging me upon first greeting. I’ve had to do more counter measures to thwart those full frontal, bear hug attacks in recent years than in any one time in my earlier life. I was delighted to stumble upon Judith Martin aka Miss Manners commenting on the issue:
Miss Manners has been valiantly fighting the promiscuous hug for years. She recommends snapping out the hand for a handshake, which has the effect of physically warding off approaches. But that is for acquaintances who try to skip the preliminaries to becoming intimate friends and for strangers who entertain the bizarre notion that physical contact leads to love instead of the other way around.
Oh, yes! Preach it, sister! My expressions of physical affection move along a scale of increasingly closer contact that correlates to an increasingly closer, intimate relationship. Strangers and acquaintances get a warm smile and a sincere, eager handshake which progresses eventually to sideways, affectionate huglets for those good friends and not-so-immediate family. Big bear hugs are reserved for my husband, immediate family and very dear friends on special occasions. I NEVER hug a business or professional acquaintance. I think my lawyer is an awesome guy who deserves my respect and big bucks but hug him? Perish the thought. Hugging the salesgirl who helped me find something I needed? <twitch, twitch> Not. Going. To. Happen.
Why have we culturally skipped the pleasantries of a genuine smile, a twinkle in the eye, a pro-actively offered handshake and a congenial greeting as the first step in greeting people we barely know and replaced it with an invasion of intimate personal space generally reserved for more intimate relationships? The beauty of the handshake is that it is civil, respectable and respectful to everyone equally regardless of social standing and proximity to the greeter. Hugging, on the other hand, is a more intimate greeting that seems diluted when shared with the entire world.
I enjoy watching “The Locator” but host Troy Dunn’s habit of bear hugging everyone he meets sends me in an apoplexy of wondering what I would do if he came looking for me. Granted, Dunn is one handsome piece of manliness and the temptation to get engulfed by all that masculinity would exist BUT as much as I am tempted, my desire to let my relationships advance in a natural progression of increasing intimacy and affection outweighs the temporal advantages of close proximity to Dunn’s pectoral muscles. Therefore I’d have to stiff arm him with a handshake greeting on national television when he comes to tell me he’s found my longlost teddy bear.