I’m not a touchy person. By that, I don’t mean that I’m not sensitive. I’m damn sensitive. I mean that I’m not one of those types who touches other people. I just assume that you don’t want me to paw all over you. God knows that I don’t want to be molested by people.
I’m probably in the minority on this, but I just don’t care much for all the touching. Why? I’m not sure. I’m not autistic or mental or anything (as far as I know). I don’t have any particularly severe fear of germs. Oh, sure, I don’t like breathing in public restrooms or touching doorknobs. I used to wash my hands all the time like Howard Hughes, but I stopped doing that several years ago. Even though you’re probably all germy, it’s not that big a deal. It’s really just the touching.
Let’s be clear about one thing: I’m not talking about sexual touching or any touching you might do in the privacy of your own home. That’s your business. Such groping is best left to one’s discretion. We certainly do not need to hear about the details nor do I have any advice in that regard.
The most basic form of social touching is the handshake. What a weird custom. I can understand why some cultures just don’t do it. I read somewhere that the ancients Greeks started it as a gesture of goodwill to show that they weren’t carrying weapons. They also had sex with children. Why the Hell would we want to follow their customs?
I have no issue with the basic handshake–a quick, firm grab of the hand followed by two pumps. I guess it’s an okay way to greet people. Of course, there are the people who always shake your hand. I have a good friend who always shakes my hand when we see each other. It’s like we’ve never met. I suppose it’s his way of saying: “Hello, old friend, I now grasp your hand to show that we remain on good terms. And that I don’t have a damn gun.” Then again, I do the same thing when I meet someone I’ve never seen and will never see again. It’s confusing.
What I don’t like is the two-hand shake. You know this one. It’s the regular handshake coupled with the other hand grabbing the outside of my hand. It’s like the shaker wants to make sure I can’t change my mind and pull away.
I don’t like the Bone-Crusher. Many years ago, I met the Governor of Kentucky, a gregarious fellow named Julian Carroll. He crushed my hand. I still remember the bones mashing together and the gristle popping. Always remember if you shake hands with a man like me–a man with delicate girl hands–take it easy. More importantly, remember it with old people. They aren’t strong and often suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. Let them dictate the appropriate grip strength.
Hand shaking is fine. Hand-holding is not. Walk up and try to hold a stranger’s hand. It never works. So, remember: Shake=Good. Hold=Bad.
Fist-bumping is a form of handshake. It’s certainly more sanitary. I’m cool with this, too, but it’s reserved for people I already know–and only men. It’s too awkward upon an initial meeting.
Nothing good can be said of the high-five. Call me racist if you must, but white people must stay away from this. We lack the coordination to make it work consistently. There is nothing more embarrassing than whiffing on the old high-five. Needless to say, women don’t high-five. Ever.
Full disclosure: I’m not a hugger. Maybe you are. If so, I don’t judge you, but I also don’t understand you. The hug is the handshake’s amorous cousin.
Huggers will hug you whenever they see you. Oddly, they don’t hug when they first meet you. The handshake suffices. After that, though, the hug is the preferred method of greeting. Normally, it involves one arm and a delicate lean with a lead shoulder. You, then, are required to hug back in a similar fashion. If you’re like me, this is awkward, and you look like nothing so much as a man hugging a cactus.
One thing you don’t do is use the two-armed bear hug in return. This is too aggressive and could be misconstrued as an assault. It’s equally important to release the hug after a brief, impersonal embrace. If you hold the hug even slightly too long, the situation becomes uncomfortable quickly. This is especially so if you say something like “Mmmm” or “Ohhhh.”
If you must hug, I suggest the Man Hug. This consists of a quick upper-body embrace followed by one brief pat on the back. DO NOT REACH UNDER THE ARMS FOR THE MAN HUG!
The reverse hug is nothing more than a sexual assault.
Related to the basic hug of greeting is the conversational hug. Typically, this is a man who puts his arm around you while talking to you. I can’t put too fine a point on this: NO ONE LIKES THIS. It’s just weird. Don’t do it.
I’m not talking about sexual kissing. After all, who among us doesn’t appreciate a vigorous make out session? This kissing is the non-sexual Greeting Kiss. This is the man or woman who, while shaking your hand or hugging you, gives you a big, wet kiss. It’s not on the mouth–usually. It will be on the cheek. I’ve never seen two men do it, although it makes as much sense as two women. Come to think of it, I think French men kiss each other, but they’re French. Need I say more?
Truth be told, we have too many rules in our own country to worry about bizarre and possibly socialistic customs of foreigners.
Why, oh, why do they do this? This isn’t like your Grandma or Aunt kissing you, either. They’re your relatives. Kissing is a really intimate thing with non-relatives. The next time you are in public, take a look around and count up all the people you wouldn’t kiss under any circumstances. It’s probably 90%. We reserve kissing for those we want to kiss or, again, our relatives. And, let’s face it, we’d rather not kiss or be kissed by most of our relatives, but it’s expected of us.
I think of myself as a fine fellow, but I don’t kid myself–I’m not a handsome man. Women do not look at me and desire to kiss me. So, if you kiss me as a form of greeting, it’s almost like you’re sympathetically kissing an animal. I am not an animal.
I try my best to avoid the Greeting Kiss. I’ll abruptly turn my head. Sometimes, I’ll kiss back–on the neck. That’s usually the end of it. Usually.
HERE’S THE RUB
Some folks like to rub. Oh, I’m not talking about strippers or masseuses. This is the guy who will rub your back while talking to you. Worse, he may walk up behind a woman and rub her shoulders. He is a lawsuit waiting to happen. It’s just a matter of time.
I once worked with a woman–a very nice woman–who would do this. She wasn’t unattractive, but I didn’t like it. It’s too familiar. Rub someone you know well–very well.
TOUCH TOO MUCH
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of all this touching is that there are very few areas on the human body that are acceptable to touch on another person. We all know that genitalia are off-limits, at least most of the time and always in social settings. In fact, almost the entire human body is off-limits. “But,” you say, “we know the hand is acceptable because of the handshake.” Oh, really? How about the back of the hand? When you meet someone, caress the back of his or her hand. You won’t be introduced to anyone else that evening.
Let’s examine the human back. Certainly, the buttocks area is off-limits, except in sports where it may be slapped as a form of encouragement. How about the lower back? Hmmm. It doesn’t work, does it? Imagine the Hugger’s reaction when you grab her lower back and pull her toward you. Security will remove you shortly thereafter. The mid-back is perhaps acceptable; however, it makes for an awkward hug. The upper back is generally okay, as is the shoulder area.
I pride myself on having a typical human back:
The front of the human body is completely off-limits. There is no way you can rub the tummy of co-worker without violating every sexual harassment rule. The chest? C’mon! No way. Chest touching is appropriate only for getting to second base or picking a fight.
The side of the torso is a gray area but should be avoided. It carries with it the connotation that you are grabbing the other person. Not good.
Below the belt line is also completely taboo–front, back, sides–it doesn’t matter. There’s no way to do it without causing a scene.
The face and head are out-of-bounds, too, unless for the Greeting Kiss. Pawing around on someone’s face or head is creepy. Don’t do it.
What of the neck? Do we even need to discuss this? What kind of weirdo are you?
This leaves us with the arms. They are mostly okay, I suppose, but be careful. Touching someone’s arm while talking to him or her is usually not offensive or suggestive. Rubbing that same arm is bad news.
Once you consider the human body and its many untouchable spots, there is no point in all the touchy behavior. You are tip-toeing around disaster the entire time. Why take the chance? You know that the basic handshake is safe. Stick to that.
SO, WHAT’S MY PROBLEM?
At this point, you’re wondering about my psychological well-being. That’s probably a legitimate concern. I don’t really have problems with so-called “personal space,” although I will admit that I don’t like crowds, either. It’s just the touchy stuff. Before you say “Lighten up, Francis,” consider that I may not be so unusual.
I’ve never been one to engage in public displays of affection, so it’s understandable that I would be reticent to paw around on strangers or mere acquaintances. Nevertheless, should we ever meet, extend the hand of friendship, and I will gladly shake it. It’s my way of saying:
“I am pleased to meet you and now gladly mash our hands together with no idea whether you’ve washed your hands in the past few days. I am, however, glad to see that you do not have a weapon. Now, excuse me, while I look for some hand soap.”
Excellent post! I so agree with you on so many of these issues. Hugs and kisses are reserved for my wife and children (my wife’s mother gets a free pass for hugs.) Otherwise, don’t touch me. I’m OK with a hand-shake (BTW, I’d allow the two-handed shake for clergy, I don’t know why.) I hold my wife’s (and often my children’s) hand frequently but think that if anyone else tried it, I’d deck them. With all of that being said, I’m a bit of a germophobe myself. So, if by random chance we ever meet and shake hands, you’ll have the comfort of knowing that yes, I did recently wash my hands.
Great post and I agree about 99%. I’d rather not shake hands. I’m no germophobe (as far as you know) but I just don’t like touching people I don’t know well. That being said, I grew up around a lot of foreigners so I am totally OK with the kiss on the cheek (Europe) or the double kiss (South America). For some reason that doesn’t bother me as much as hands. Weird? Probably.