An article in FT Magazine - – got us thinking about how we greet one another—a handshake or bear hug.
There are still many things that amuse me about the USA even after 20 years here. One of them is the bear hug. Here in the mid-west you don’t gently kiss people on the cheek when you greet them, or shake hands if it’s guy-on-guy, you give them a big old bear hug. Sometimes there’s an accompanying kiss on the cheek as the hugger moves in for the full body envelopment, but often it’s just a hug.
If a woman wants to show that she really likes a person (in a platonic way) she’ll stop about ten feet away, raise both hands straight out in front at shoulder height, perhaps waggle her hands a little, and run in little steps to the target. Sometimes there’s a high pitched squeal or a drawn out “How are you?” Then both arms are flung around the other person’s neck. This happens every day at the school gate and these women see each other almost every day.
While people don’t hug you when they’re first introduced to you, they could well be hugging you by the end of that encounter. For example, if I was introduced to someone at a dinner party I’d shake their hand. By the end of the dinner however, particularly if we’d clicked, there would be a hug. It might not be as tight as a hug from a good friend, but a hug would still be in order.
The Brits that I know here all do it too, but only to Americans. When we Brits meet and greet each other, we revert back to leaning in and pecking once or twice on the cheeks. Minimal contact. And it’s quite a relief sometimes too!
My wife is the recipient of many a bear hug when we visit the States, even from people she just met. Due to her being my wife, if a good friend of mine meets her, she is instantly awarded “good friend by proxy” status and given The Hug. It’s not an issue or anything, just a cultural difference.
What I get, in addition to bear hugs from the ladies, is the manly ritual firm handshake with the left arm extended in a sort of half hug, ending with a pat on the back. It’s second nature to me.
Living in Britain and having those experiences when we visit the States made it surprising that the article linked above classified Americans as repressed. I guess, in comparison to the rest of the world, they are. I just happened to land in the only country on earth that makes Americans appear unabashedly uninhibited by comparison. Over here it is a handshake and a kiss on the cheek (actually, it’s a kiss in the air next to their cheek, unless they are a good friend). I find this a bit tame.
This discussion, however, is limited to greetings and the article expands into other areas where, I would have to agree, the Americans come across as quite prudish, even compared to the Brits. But other cultures leave us both far behind: in Finland, for instance, you might strip naked at a dinner party and hop in the sauna together. So there are varying degrees of what we, as a culture, are comfortable with.
I think, for me anyway, the happy medium lies somewhere between a polite handshake and getting naked in the sauna. A nice, firm bear hug perhaps.
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