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.

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