The airliner was about an hour away from Paris when my seatmate leaned across the armrest with a social warning for me. “Whatever you do, do NOT hug your friend at the airport.” I looked at her and asked why not. She said, do not even contemplate greeting anybody in France by hugging them. Such a thing is considered a major faux pas. It’s just the way of French culture.
I wondered what I should do because I routinely exchange hugs in greeting friends and family. My fellow passenger advised me to greet my new friend, Marc, in the same way I would greet a business acquaintance for the first time in Chicago. An American style handshake would be the best thing to offer. My Internet friend should take the lead and I should simply observe and imitate him.
Later, I followed the advise and fought my strong urge to hug Marc. Instead I extended my hand to greet him. When we walked down the concourse, Marc repeatedly patted my shoulder as we exchanged sincere smiles. My visit had gotten off on the right foot.
Hugging is at once a simple act and a complicated social gesture. When we hug a friend we haven’t seen in many years, we follow through differently than when we embrace a lover. This is obvious. As in the instances of my friend Marc, a hug in greeting is just wrong; while my friend Roger in San Francisco expects a greeting hug and many more throughout our visits.
Generally speaking, hugging is something that we do with people we trust. Certainly romantic partners enjoy the best of all possible hugs. If your family hugs, the parental and sibling hugs can be welcome, too. Like many people, I routinely hug my close pals.
I think the peak period of social hugging in the United States took place on the west coast from the late 1960s into the 1970s. It seems like I gave and received hugs from everybody, often total strangers.
Basically, hugging is something we do with people we trust. In most cultures, in order to hug, there must first be some sort of special bond and trustworthiness between the two huggers. This is so, because the two people open up their most vulnerable areas to each other. Holding another person in your arms and he holding you in his can be a rather intimate act.
Who do you trust enough to hug? The answers will vary greatly depending upon various people. Some folks are more reserved than others. There are some people who will only hug their significant other. A precious few open their arms to nearly everyone in sight. Most of us trust only our immediate family and close circle of friends enough to engage in hugging.
We men are the most awkward ones when it comes to hugging. In most instances, if a hug is expected, we have the one-second rule. Grab the other guy, mentally say “One Mississippi”, then let go of him. There is also the cordial hug we might give to an aunt or uncle, the “A-frame” hug–shoulders briefly touch, a few soft pats on the back, then release. Where females are concerned, personally, I let them take the lead.
With the advent of today’s lawsuit happy culture, I’ve learned to default to non-hugging in work and other professional encounters. There are also situations in which I want to discourage someone’s hug. The best deflection is a firm, American style handshake coupled with assertive yet friendly eye contact. Then I initiate the conversation to help abort any potential hug. Luckily, I rarely feel the need to turn down a hug. I have a good enough rapport with most people in that we know when to or when not to hug.
Since today is National Hugging Day, I won’t worry so much about turning down hugs. I also hope most people will not turn down well-intentioned hugs, either. This is the day to spend a few extra moments in physical closeness with a good friend. If you have a lover or significant other, an extra hug or three is in order.
The Blue Jay of Happiness read somewhere that people need four hugs per day to survive, eight hugs per day to maintain a strong emotional level, and twelve per day to become a better person. Where is this possible? When can I move there?