Hi Uncommon Courtesy,
What is your stance on hugs as a hello or goodbye?
I, personally, hate hugs, unless they’re with all but the closest of family and friends- and even then, just for a) comfort in the direst of emotional states or b) when this is goodbye for at least a few weeks to a month, or before some kind of trying endeavour. I don’t even particularly enjoy a hug with anyone but my husband, but I will do it because I’m not a monster and know when someone wants one.
This is obviously an idiosyncratic thing, perhaps set in place by my undemonstrative Irish family, but they make my skin crawl, and when I see an acquaintance/parent of a friend/colleague who I’m friendly with but don’t want to touch coming in for one, I’m like, oh god oh god no. Especially, because I feel like I tend to be forced into hugging while my husband gets to shake hands!
Leaving aside the gendered complexity of hugging, I ask you two things.
1. What is your opinion on hugs (is my dislike of hugs my own cross to bear, or is there some merit to it), and, 2. considering I can’t avoid all hugs and must occasionally wrap my arms around semi-strangers, what would a modern guide to social hug etiquette look like?
Thanks for any light you can shed on this matter.
Not feeling it
Emily Post didn’t really say much on hugging, but according to MTV Lauren Conrad is the Emily Post of hugging (???). She lays down some rules here, but says to save the big, two-armed hugs for close family and friends.
Jaya: So how do we navigate an increasingly hug-friendly world? I was caught by LW’s mention of how gendered this can be. I hadn’t really thought of it, but that totally happens.
Victoria: Ugh yes, this happened to me once! With a young guy–he was shaking hands with all the guys and then I go to shake his hand and he’s like, “I think we can hug.” I did because I don’t really care, but ugh! Not if it’s just the girls that you hug!
Jaya: That’s ridiculous, especially if it’s a professional setting. Though I admit, I’m a total hugger.
Victoria: Me too. I guess I am somewhat sexist about hugging–I will hug strange women more than strange men. Like friend’s parents, I will hug the mom but not the dad.
Jaya: I find myself doing that as well. I guess it comes from an assumption that it won’t be taken sexually, which obviously it can be no matter who you hug. I do my best to read body language and see if someone is uncomfortable with it. And honestly some days I don’t feel like hugging, or there are some people I don’t want that level of intimacy with, and try to quickly get my hand out there for a handshake.
Victoria: I also think that social hugs can be like, gentle, quick hugs that leave a fair amount of space between the people. But it’s perfectly fine to say “I’m not a hugger” and stick out your hand.
Jaya: Is it though? I mean, it should be, but I feel like if everyone is hugging and you say no it’s gonna turn into like “who’s the ice queen?” situation. Which is just to say that huggers need to be more aware of those personal boundaries.
Victoria: Yeah, if someone’s giving you pressure you don’t want to be friends with them anyway. I guess you try to read the situation and see if you can get away with not hugging. Also a good time to take up Irish exits–if you don’t say goodbye, they can’t force you to hug.
Jaya: Hahaha yes. I think sticking out your hand first is key, and if someone comes in for a hug anyway do your best to make it quick and create as much space as possible, to send the message that you’re uncomfortable. Also, this question got me thinking a lot about a few articles I’ve read about not forcing children to hug anyone, even family members. This is a good example, but basically it comes down to teaching children body autonomy at an early age, and understanding that something like a hug can be very intimate. And maybe we’re forgetting that applies to adults too.
Victoria: Absolutely. You should teach kids how to politely greet people and not hide and stuff, but they should get to choose. Plus, get them started early on firm handshakes and maybe there won’t be so many people with terrible handshakes.
Jaya: Ugh preach.
Victoria: Want to hear how I learned to shake hands? So I went to Take Your Daughters To Work Day with my mom when I was 11 or 12, and she was introducing me to people and I was shaking their hands, and she observes my weak handshake a few times and tells me that no one likes shaking a dead fish. And thus I have always shook hands pretty well (I think!).
Jaya: That’s amazing! I do not remember how I learned, but I think I’m good at it. But handshakes are great because they’re very neutral. Like yes, we live in a society where if you refuse any sort of accepted greeting you’re going to be a bit ostracized, but you should feel free to decline a hug.
Victoria: Definitely, and people should be very understanding.
Jaya: What do you think could be said if someone gives you shit for it? I can imagine some jovial fellow coming in for a hug, me saying “I’m sorry, I’m not really a hugger,” and getting a lot of pressure to just lighten up.
Victoria: I mean, to an extent you either play it serious or act even jokier, depending on the situation. Alot of situations, you probably won’t be able to get out of though. I guess the more people who make a stink about it, the more people who will get it that some people don’t like hugging.
Jaya: Yeah, if you’re willing to be that person.
Victoria: I mean, you can feel the moral superiority that the person who is pressuring is the rude one. Which is cold comfort, I realize. My thoughts come down to: say you aren’t a hugger, and if they insist, decide if you are going to fight that battle, and if you are not, try to give a brief, light hug or whatever makes you comfortable. My bugaboo is the cheek kissing thing–I never know when its going to happen! Especially the double kiss! I’m always like, hey, oh, are we doing this? Okay then.
Jaya: That happened to me in France with a French guy, and I made the biggest American idiot of myself.