The Insane World of Greetings: Handshakes, Hugs, and Kisses

Freshman year in high school I was labeled "anti-hug" (I’ve never recovered) because I didn’t want to cater to the utterly insane American practice (always with girls, sometimes with guys) of hugging someone when you meet them and when you say goodbye. I looked forward to business meetings, a reprise from such social awkwardness due to the dominance of the handshake. No questions ask, shake hands at beginning, shake hand at the end. The pitfalls are easy to avoid: don’t offer a dead fish (ie, make it firm) and don’t put out your hand too early. A premature shake — done when conversation is still going — often leads to yet another shake before you part ways, undoubtedly a damper on an otherwise outstanding chit chat.

So when I hear guys like Donald Trump write off the hand shake as a waste of time and haven for germs I say, "Yo, Donny, be thankful. It ain’t nothing compared to high school, and not even close to what our European friends have to go through."

If you want to understand the maze of possible handshake / hug greetings by people under age 25, check out this hilarious CollegeHumor article, complete with graphical illustrations. From personal experience, there’s no worse feeling than going "for a pound" (leaving a clenched fist out after a shake) and the other person not responding with a pound themselves right until you drop your fist right as they go to touch it. Race, as always, complicates matters. A white-to-white shake is usually different than a white-to-black, or black-to-black.Dudegreetings_shake_variation_1

After visiting 10 European countries I can safely say, however, that these kinds of challenges don’t even compare to what the poor Spanish and French have to go through. Kissing both sides of the cheek still rules the day. "Kissing" is imprecise: you touch your cheek against the other person’s and then make a kissing sound with your lips. How bizarre is that? Most Europeans I met don’t find it worth the effort, but do it because they have to. They also have their gripes about the American system, though. Imagine how it feels to walk into a meeting with gung-ho Americans and receive the ultimate symbol of business affection: the bear hug, a full body wrap where both people slap their big, sloppy hands against each other’s back.

My wish is the world would evolve toward two very simple level of greetings, whether it be social or business: if you meet a stranger or a weak relationship it’s a simple handshake. If you’re closer to the person you use your other arm to give a half-hug or a squeeze on the upper arm/lower shoulder.

Personal Blogs Are So Upbeat – When You're Gonna Blog Something, You Want it to Be Positive

Out of my 200+ RSS feeds, about 20 are close friends of mine, not only for their words but because I know them so it’s more fun. I notice almost all of the personal blogs I read are consistently upbeat.

It’s rare to see a post, “I’ve had a real shitty week. Let me tell you about it” or “Here are all the things I’ve messed up on the past couple days.” Instead, we get only highlights. On my blog, at least, this is defintiely the case. But I don’t think I’m being dishonest; I do think I have a really good life!

My theory is that when you know in advance you’re going to blog something, it changes the actual experience, and you’re inclined to try to make it a positive one so you can write about it positively. For example, I recently had a great solo dinner in Rome. I had a terrific companion (newspaper) and good food. About 1/4 of the way through this thought crossed my mind: “This is an awesome meal. I’m going to blog it.” I did. I was committed in my mind to making it a positive night overall, and it did end up that way. In sum: when I know I’m going to blog an experience, I’m committed to making it a positive experience, and since intention and reaction mostly define the quality of an experience, it usually turns out positive. True, I could always commit to having positive days each day, but knowing I will blog something introduces a weird form of “public accountability.”

This is all related to constructing the preferred narrative of our lives, telling ourselves stories, deluding ourselves to stay happy, crediting our successs to talent instead of luck, so on and so forth. All this is fine by me.

Why live in “reality” when you can live in your own joyous conception of it?

The City of Lights — Paris, France

Meinfronteffil_1 On Monday I had one of those beautiful moments of meeting a previously anonymous blog reader who reached out me to a few weeks ago and offered his home and local expertise to me while in Paris.

Before meeting Pierre in a cafe near the Arc de Triomphe, I lunched with Eric Grabli, a private equity guy who Seth Levine introduced me to. Eric shed good light on France and European business culture. His thoughts — delivered in a slow, deliberate manner — were consistent with what I’ve heard from others (and which I’ll summarize later). We gorged ourself on sushi and water.

I then hooked up with Pierre, the blog reader and friend and host, and we drove back to his house 30 mins north of Paris. I’ve spent a lot of time in European capitals so staying in the countryside where it’s quiet was a refreshing change. After taking a nap and cruising on wi-fi, we went to a free one hour concert at a church. It was quasi-opera, quasi-drama. Apparently something uniquely French. A handful of opera singers sang different numbers but in quite a dramatic, acting style. It was fun and entertaining.Bridge_1

Pierre and I went to a local creprery for dinner where I had my first two authentic French crepes. Back in San Francisco I am a frequent customer at Crepes on Cole, a "creperey" run by Middle Eastern dudes who serve excellent Americanized crepes…which means a crepe stuffed to the brim with meat, lettuce, cheese, and the like. Predictably, French crepes are smaller but more eloquent. We had a dinner crepe and desert crepe and alcoholic cider to wash it down. We talked globalization, France, travel, America, and business. A good conversation.

The next morning we set off early in the morning for Paris. I spent the day by myself exploring. I started at the Arc de Triomphe, took a few pictures, and then sped over to the Eiffel Tower. By arriving before 10 AM, I beat the long queue, and took the elevator up to the very top. I must admit that seeing the Eiffel Tower on my "Paris By Night" car tour a couple days before gave the same feeling as when I saw the Roman collisieum or David by Michaelangelo: "Oh shit, there it is!" You see it in endless photos, you know exactly what it’s going to look like, but then when you see it in person, it overwhelms. The view from the second level of the Eiffel Tower is arguably better than the very top because it’s open air. At the top you’re enclosed top to bottom in protective glass, and the view is only slightly better. After going to the top, I just hung out near the grass field under the Tower. I gazed up at the massive structure and when my neck hurt I looked at tourists try to take the perfect picture in front of it, a difficult task given the size imbalance between both subjects of the photo!Effile

I walked around Paris the rest of the day. I walked from the west side of the City (Eiffel Tower) to the East Side near Gare de Lyon train station. I stopped at a cafe for lunch but otherwise it was walk, walk, walk. I made a decision not to visit The Louvre while in Paris. I’ve seen a number of rock star museuems and since I have so little time I didn’t want the queue to eat up 1/2 or 3/4 of my day. The musueum itself is huge, too, and could easily take three full days to visit all the art. Without the Louvre on my agenda, I could walk slower, get lost, and take better photos.

I met Pierre at a cafe in the evening and we came home and had dinner with his family. We had a traditional French meal on their table outside. The air was still and you really felt like you were cozily ensconced from any of a busy city’s stresses.Img_1536

Wednesday morning I went for a one hour run in the woods and corn fields of Northern France. When I popped out of the woods and into endless corn fields, I felt like I had just walked into Field of Dreams. Awesome sceneary and true tranquility. The only noise on earth was my breathing and feet hitting the gravel. I went into Paris in the afternoon and visited the Musee D’Orse, home to many famous modern paintings. Van Gough’s self-portrait highlighted his room, and many Monet, Renoir, Degas, and others abound. D’Orse is a great place to visit in Paris not only because of its outstanding art but given its proximity to the Louvre the queue is compartively short.

I met up with Pierre and we went to the Palace de Tokyo, described here.

We had dinner at a Lebonanse restuarant — interesting timing, I know! — which was excellent. I love Middle Eastern food. More good conversation. A Ben stuffed with food and 4 liters of water from the day (yes, it’s been *very* hot in Paris, thus lots of water consumption) wobbled into the car and we cruised back to the house in thunderstorms and lighting.

Paris is without question a world-class city. Everyone must visit Paris. Would I want to live or work there? No. I will explain why when I summarize and analyze my findings of French culture on my main blog.

A giant thank you to Pierre and his family for being wonderful and generous hosts!


Palais de Tokyo in Paris

One of the highlights of my meanderings around Paris was a visit to the Palais de Tokyo, a futuristic / modernist "museum" that has nothing to do with Tokyo but everything to do with technology, art, urbanism, and the environment. It claims it’s the "only museum open from noon to midnight". That should give you a sense of the attitude of the place.

This summer the set is "Tropico-Vegetal Program": "Lying at the point where global exoticism, ecological concerns, summertime tourism and paradisial utopias meet, the different shows and projects that finger in Topico-Vegetal Program constitue an invitation to an artistic conquest and lucid stroll through a world filled with paradoxes and ambiguities, between an idyllic imagination and politically committed questioning, historical perspectives and political and ecological analyses."


In sum, it’s all very bizarre and confusing (I have no idea what that description means!) but it’s well worth a visit. In the current exhibition there are five different areas. The first one appears to be about nature, as there are big green sitting cushions, fake forestry apparatus hanging from the ceiling, TV screens and pictures of water lilies, and the color green everywhere. But upon examination, the phrases and fragments written on the wall are all anti-globalization. At first they seem innocuous — just factual statements about business and capital. But as the wall stretches to the right they gain complexity: "The neoliberalism vision has screwed tons of people" one essentially says. Ah, France! On the other side of the room there is a crocodile and herein lies the nut of the exhibit: it’s about what happens when "Crocodile mentality" (a real cognitive process) drives actions.

The next exhibition is a 2D topographic display of what happened in Puerto Rico after the U.S. conducted bombing exercises on one of their islands. How lovely!

No, it’s not all anti-capitalism or anti-American. The next few exhibits focus more on nature, rainforests, architecture. It’s a fascinating and massively confusing place. Trying to discern meaning out of everything is tough; just soak up the strange setting you find yourself in. The bookstore is also excellent: tons of books on urbanism, design, art, the future, and culture.

My understanding is that the Palais de Tokyo changes its exhibitions regularly but it’s well worth a visit any time of the year.

How Mafia Children Learn to Distrust Everyone

A retired Mafia boss recounted that when he was a young boy, his Mafioso father made him climb a wall and then invited him to jump, promising to catch him. He at first refused, but his father insisted until finally he jumped — and promptly landed flat on his face. The wisdom his father sought to convey was summed up by these words: "You must learn to distrust even your parents."

-Francis Fukuyama on social capital (and lack thereof) in Southern Italy.

I have embraced "trust no one" with gusto on my Europe trip. No matter how friendly someone appears to be, I know that what they’re really after is my passport, and the moment I see their hand move toward my pant pocket is the moment I either run or I end their existence (probably the former).