Sunday, June 28, 2009

May I Touch You?

I imagine living in a puritanical society was pretty simple. Societal rules were pretty clear.
1. Wear black all the time
2. Don’t touch anybody ever
3. Avoid red lettering
Boom, done. No questions asked.

But the society we live in today is full of personal space and public affection, hidden boundaries and broken rules. It can be quite difficult to negotiate the social atmosphere. Especially for a guy like myself who grew up in a particularly affectionate generation.

By the time I got to the 8th grade I was hugging and kissing my female friends on the cheek whenever we would say hello or goodbye. I don’t know if it was us feigning adulthood or just a natural progression in trying to get closer to touching the opposite sex, but either way it became quite common within my social circles.

But that was in New York. When it came time to move to Arizona for college I didn’t even think twice that these social customs might be a little bit foreign to the people of the Cactus State.

One of my first nights in Arizona I got a ride home from a class member, a nice girl whom I had just met. When she dropped me off at my dorm, I moved to engage in an act I had performed hundreds of times with all of my platonic friends; I leaned over from my passenger seat to give her a kiss on the cheek to say goodbye. This would have been made infinitely easier had she met me halfway like I was used to.

But she sat there paralyzed. Like Super Mario in a Tanooki suit, she didn’t move. By the time my lips finally made it to her cheek I felt like I had spent 2 months on the Oregon trail. It was a completely G rated kiss on the cheek, but when I pulled away the look of shock on her face made me think I had accidentally tried to get to third base with her… which had NOT been the case!

Obviously my social customs were a little different than those of some of my new friends in Arizona.

Flash forward to current day. I am a working professional (whatever the hell that means). And I spend my days in business environments with people my age that I get along with pretty well.

Now business custom dictates that I shake their hand, but that feels cold and informal with female peers of my age that, in any other scenario, would involve a hug or kiss. However neither of those is appropriate in an office environment unless of course;

  1. They have retired, quit, or been fired
  2. They are receiving an award
So what I often do is just walk up to said females and stand there with my arms akimbo and uncomfortably lean slowly toward them hoping for some sort of last minute intervention that will make my course of action obvious.

I end up looking like more of a creep than had I just agreed to shake their hand in the first place.

The worst part is if they are leaning slightly in which implies a hug but I’m thinking I’m supposed to give them a polite kiss on the cheek and then next thing you know I have some female in a suit pressed awkwardly up against me and I’m gasping for a breath through a mouth full of hair.

I feel like an awkward award presenter. Like I’m about to give Taylor Swift her next Grammy award and a handshake is too formal, and a high five too juvenile, but a hug makes me seem like I’m one mistaken touch away from hearing those dreaded words…

“I’m Chris Hansen from Dateline NBC.”

I don’t know the rules. I just don’t.

When I first started working after college I was terrified of a sexual harassment suit. I don’t behave inappropriately around women (well…not that much) but I was so aware of having to behave like an adult (whatever that means) that I ended up embracing my German roots and showing no emotion at all.

Companies make such a big deal about explaining their rules and regulations and policies when they hire you that it’s a great way to become paranoid. Based on my last 3 jobs, if those rules had been in place while I was in college… I would be probably serving a life sentence in solitary confinement.

We as a society need to embrace hard and fast rules on this. A name tag system could be used.

“Hello I’m a hugger”


“Keep your hands where I can see them”

We just need something clear and concise. But I have an idea. I submit that we all (except for the smelly people) hug all the time. Hear me out on this one.

As long as you are wearing a shirt (which, unless you are Ricky Martin, you probably should be) there would be no skin on skin contact. Just 2 humans embracing in a cottony wonderland and it is done. No weak, dead fish, weird touch, germ filled, hand shakes. No my face touching your face, my lips on your cheek, your ear in my eye etc.

Granted I get excited to see pretty much everybody. And I’m kind of like a koala. If you’re willing to hold me, I’m probably just going to hang on as long as you do.

So the next time you see me, whomever you are, just give me a hug. Don’t even let me go for anything else. Just wrap me up, and hold me, and maybe you could whisper in my ear that I am loved. That would make me feel good to.

Unless of course you’re from Arizona, in which case, please just wave.


Rowena... said...

You're just living in the wrong country. And remember, not everyone can pull of a stunt like what Adrien Brody did to Halle Berry.

Anonymous said...

Great post Richard!!! I laughed so damn hard when you mentioned Dateline NBC....too funny! Living in Quebec, everyone does the double cheek kiss thing. I'm so used to it, I'll remember your post if I'm ever in Arizona! Your post reminded me of a few Seinfeld episodes, one where Jerry stopped the kiss hellos, and the other when he does his bit about have a great talent for humour! Oh gosh, another image just came to mind, if you're a Seinfeld fan, you'll remember an episode where Puddy keeps high-fiving...see how good you are? You've got me laughing for hours now!

Pat said...

I'm a touchy feelie person, myself. I'm always hugging and kissing people. I'm Italian, c'mon! I was going to ask if you were Italian, too, and was surprised to read that you're German. Now, I don't want to stereotype here, but my husband's family is German. They would shake hands when they hadn't seen each other in over a year! Then this Italian comes into the family and now it's a love fest!

I do have a problem about just hugging everyone, like you suggest. Women with big ta-ta's, like myself, don't like to introduce their girls to just anybody, ya know?

I like your suggestion of the name tags with "Hello I'm a hugger".

I love your sense of humor and your take on life!

Sophie said...

Keep your hands where I can see them! - Sophie, from Arizona.

Meeko Fabulous said...

Guilty as charged. I'm a hugger. :)

carolyn said...

I was that bitch in HS who resisted hugging people. IM GOING TO SEE YOU NEXT CLASS WHY ARE YOU HUGGING ME?? It felt phony. Maybe some people dont believe your love.


Lover of Life/ Nancy said...

LOL! My daughter (age 22) and I just had this conversation. She believes everyone should hug. She bases this on the fact that in Portland, OR, where she lives, everyone hugs. However, in Nevada, it is a little more iffy. Lots of time spent with people not quite knowing the current etiquette. Sorry, no help here.

Fishy Fish said...

I have experienced this in the work place as well and was looked at as the bi-sexual for months until everyone realized Im just a hugger(doesnt have to b an occassion) I just appreciate a hug instead of cold clammy hands.
I guess one day people will realize that were are human beings and not robots as they would like us all to be/

Jeninacide said...

Haha- yeah, I definitely do NOT hug my coworkers, at least not at work or in work situations. Several of my coworkers are also friends in "real life" so I hug them after hours. There is never any kissing at work either- although I TOTALLY kiss people on the cheeks in non-work environments.

Yeah, I am no help here either as I don't really feel comfortable shaking people's hands as it seems weird and sometimes too formal. I guess I'm with you, we should all just hug!

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