pleased to meet you
Last night I had the good fortune to meet two separate groups of pals, friends & acquaintances at the local hostelry. All well and good I hear you say but it did throw-up a certain conundrum that, as a cold, emotionally up-tight northerner, that I’ve struggled with for many a year. A hug, a handshake, a well-intoned nod, an air kiss or a firm squeeze on the forearm – when did saying hello become so complicated? And let’s not forget the high-five, sportsman’s hand clutch, hair ruffle and fist-bump that further muddies the dishwater.
We Brits are all over the place when it comes to the touchy subject of physical introduction. The handshake, a staple to one, can appear an almost barbarian intrusion to another. Kissing cheeks has always felt a bit too posh, and southern, for me. And if I do get pulled in for one, should it be just the one, or two, or three? I’m neither Italian nor American so don’t be offended if I restrict you to one, and be thankful as I eat garlic every day. I’m too old to high-five and will gladly go to my grave having never air-kissed. Non-negotiable.
Once upon a time the only person who ever shook my hand was an uncle, and, as it made me feel extra-special, almost grown-up, I loved it. It was a big, warm, strong handshake and one I actively searched out. I first told his son, my cousin, of this only a couple of months ago and, not completely to my surprise, they had never done so and now, with one being six-foot under, it ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. It came as no great surprise as my ol’ man never shook mine, or involved in any bodily contact whatsoever for that matter. It just wasn’t a done thing in the codified, repressed Victorian norms of the fracking north. Why, I’ve only just started kissing me mother, ferchristsakes.
What a mess. What a minefield. And the rules constantly change with different groups and different social settings. I was never a hugger in the office and #MeToo has kindly cleared-up the kissing colleague situation: don’t. Not even at the Christmas Do. Especially not at the Christmas Do. Don’t ruffle a child’s hair as these days you’re likely to come away with a handful of extra strong styling gel. As a midget, please don’t ruffle my hair. There’s precious little of it left and I’m doing my damnedest to keep hold of it. For the vast majority of our lives my brother and I have greeted each other with a cursory nod and “Alright our kid?” which kinda works for us. Don’t hug anyone after a sporting endeavour, particularly if you didn’t partake, as it ain’t going to end well. Except for the dry-cleaners.
So, what to take from all this confusion? Make eye contact and smile as you greet people. In my aged Gutenberg-era book, engaging with your eyes is where it begins and often ends. Next, commit to a firm and short-ish handshake. No Trump/Macron bone-crushing battle of wills, just an acceptable and confident grasp. Good friends of the opposite sex may get a kiss. Possibly. With kids and the vertically challenged go down to their level. Close, direct family warrant, and deserve, both a kiss and a hug. Go on, you know you want to. Either way, it’s vital you take the lead otherwise a lifetime of kissing ears, shaking extended fists, embarrassingly missing high-fives and breath-stifling-armpit-sniffing hugs shall be yours forever.