Monday, 18 April 2016

Hugs and kisses

Journalist Shane Watson says she's increasingly confused about social hugs and kisses. When are they appropriate and when not? And just how effusive or affect-ionate should the hugs and kisses be?

I don't have any trouble with the etiquette for embraces myself. Enthusiastic hugs and kisses are routine in Northern Ireland, even for slight acquaintances or people you haven't seen for decades. We're very physical with each other and not remotely embarrassed about it, even if we get it a bit wrong. Nobody reels in horror as we kiss them flamboyantly on the cheek, or hug them like long-lost relatives.

But Shane finds herself more and more in awkward clinches, either under-doing it or over-doing it, liable to frosty or shocked responses. What is now the correct way of greeting or departing, she wonders? Does anybody know?

Numerous encounters seem to call for kissing, she says. Politicians in the street; exceptionally decent taxi drivers; the au pair's husband; your boss. Is there anyone you absolutely shouldn't kiss?

Well, I think she's getting herself a bit steamed up over nothing. My rule of thumb is, if it's someone you've met before and not a complete stranger, kiss them or hug them and if they give any sign they don't like it, then just back off. What's the problem?

Of course some people simply dislike hugging or kissing or any kind of embrace unless it's a loved one or relative, and physical contact with anyone else makes them squirm. Fine, they can just make that clear and you file a mental note to refrain.

Personally I'm happy to kiss anyone, male or female, but most men are still horrified at the idea of kissing another man, so I have to limit myself to the customary hug or handshake or shoulder-pat. Why are men so weird about kissing each other, I wonder? Surely they're not still nervous about gay overtones? Hey, it's 2016, guys!

So kiss me, hug me, greet me as fondly as you like. I guarantee I'll enjoy it.


  1. I can't stand this obsession with kissy greetings - I never know exactly how it's expected to be done and I just feel awkward. As a rule I'll try to avoid it where possible.
    I don't mind a quick hug if it's someone I'm close to, but the only person I kiss is the wife - and certainly not any men.

  2. Dave: Sounds like you fall into the "anyone else makes me squirm" category! I'll make a mental note never to touch you! Was there someone who was too physically affectionate when you were young?

  3. Not at all - in fact I think physical affection was perhaps a bit of a rarity when I was growing up.
    Don't get me wrong, I have no problem being touched if it's by someone I'm close to, and within a relationship I crave physical contact.

  4. Nah. Not keen on hugging. I'm so short I usually find myself wedged between someone's breasts, or sometimes worse.

  5. Dave: Okay. I get the picture!

    Scarlet: Yes, I can see that being short would cause a few problems. I wouldn't like to be uncomfortably wedged anywhere myself....

  6. I dislike the kissing. It's unnecessary to me, plus I can be a bit of a germaphobe. I've been surprised at how commonplace hugging has become. I grew up only hugging my grandparents. It took some getting used to to begin hugging friends and acquaintances. I like it now. But I don't think I will ever like the kissing.

  7. Bijoux: I don't remember hugging or kissing anyone when I was young. I guess my mother kissed me but that's about it. Maybe that's why I like hugging and kissing so much as an adult - I'm making up for lost time!

    I don't think I've ever caught anything from kissing. Much more likely when you're just sitting in a crowded bus, I would say.

  8. I am not a huggy, kissy person. I think it is a generational thing; we never did it so I never do it. My mother never hugged me until she was 80. Even with people I have known all my life we do not hug or do anything when we meet except say "hello" or "bye" and walk away. There is no awkwardness, we just don't do it.

  9. Rachel: Well, I'm clearly the odd one out here - me and the Northern Irish in general! I think I became a huggy/kissy person in the early seventies when I was mixing with all those hippie, free-love types in decadent London! My mother always hugs and kisses me, but with my brother in law it's strictly a handshake only.

  10. Well then Nick, here's "un grande abbraccio e un grosso bacio" from me! Greetings Maria x

  11. Nick, I too wasn't brought up to kiss anyone other than relations and hugs were a no, no.
    Until one day I found myself in association with the 'theatre crowd' the hangups went into the bin and I have never looked back.
    So like yourself I'm all for hugging and kissing for it is real honest exchange of energies without strings.

  12. I'm a hugger at heart, but people around here aren't for the most part. You're lucky! I do have my teddy bear. :)

  13. I'll hug and kiss anyone given half the chance Nick !!!!
    But, I have a friend who won't kiss anyone and gets really embarrassed about the hugging/kissing thing !!! Must be something to do with her past, I'm sure.
    You keep kissing and hugging ...... surely it's a lovely thing ! XXXX

  14. Maria: Grazie mille, mi capisci bene! E un abbraccio e un bacio anche a tu!

    Heron: Hugging and kissing is such fun, isn't it? A lovely form of friendliness.

    Jean: You must feel rather deprived at times! I'm sure teddy does his best to compensate.

  15. Jacqueline: What I said to Heron! How can anyone be embarrassed by a natural display of affection?

  16. Brought up in a non touching - and certainly not hugging or kissing - I found the ritual cheek greeting in France quite pleasant and very much enjoy the Costa Rican greeting of a tap on the arm for people you know briefly and a light kiss for those you know better. Mark you...the men don't kiss each other. The amical tap suffices.

  17. I didn't grow up in a family that did lots of hugging and kissing, so I tend to shy away from being the one to initiate physical contact. If I feel friendly towards someone I don't mind if they hug me....but a kiss might feel awkward.

  18. I grew up in a non-touchy family and the general culture at that time was less touchy as well so I am still a bit awkward about initiating a more affectionate greeting but happy to reciprocate.
    Unfortunately, as my balance becomes worse I stagger a bit. If I lurch forward it could look over friendly and if i step back it looks like i changed my mind!! sometimes i think i need to wear a sign

  19. Helen: A tap on the arm or a light kiss - an interesting custom. If men ever start routinely kissing each other, it'll be quite a culture shock!

    Jennifer: I guess if you're not used to hugging and kissing, it can feel extremely awkward. But what could be more natural if you feel fond of someone?

    Kylie: The balance thing is unfortunate. I guess lurching forward looks less odd than lurching backward, as if they're somehow off-putting!

  20. I am an Indian living in India and as such this post is of no significance to me. Except for a minuscule number of highly Westernised group of people, hugging and kissing are strictly private.

  21. Ramana: Goodness, that seems very strait-laced to us Brits! But it does avoid all the uncertainty about who you should hug or kiss, and how.

  22. I'm a hugger and kisser so never give it any thought. I usually pick up the do not touch me! vibe but it's very, very rare in my circle. Also I always check with new acquaintances, with a laugh, are you a hugger? 100% are. Some guys have been completely inappropriate and I've told them: you're now off my hug list, pal.


  23. www: Inappropriate behaviour by men is the bane of our age. It really is time they wised up. I expected you were a hugger and a kisser - you're Irish after all!

  24. Hugging is the best way to get rid of someone you don't like, or don't want to be associated with any more. If they hug you, just push them away, screw up your face and say "Poo! When did you last have a bath?" Works every time; guaranteed!

    From "Friendless Keith".

  25. I'm a hugger and a peck on the cheek kind of girl, but only with people I know well. If I've known someone a little while and like them I will hug only.

  26. Keith: Of course they might reply "The last time you had one, matey"

    Polly: Hugs are safer if you're not sure what to do. A kiss can be quite startling to someone who isn't expecting one.

  27. i've always been a hugger. a great bear hugger. but at five feet one i agree with ms scarlet. i'm usually buried in their chest!
    my mother hugged us always. my dad almost never. he was the john wayne type.
    the marine hugs his grandsons but never me.
    i haven't kissed anyone in years.
    i kiss all dogs. i do. on their nose on their head... or their silky ears. i would kiss an elephant too if i could get close enough to one.
    and a fuzzy little sea otter... you get the idea.
    maybe i like affection with animals more than people? i don't know.
    there's a wonderful kinship and love there. i do know that. and it's returned full measure!
    i would give you a great bear hug nick. whenever i meet you!
    jenny too!

  28. Tammy: A shame that your dad never hugged you. Why do some men think that physical affection is somehow unnatural and improper? But it looks like you compensate nicely with all the doggy kisses!

    I'd give you a big bear hug too, Tammy. Though I'm almost a foot taller than you so it could be a little awkward!

  29. I'm not proud, I'll hug and kiss anyone (I draw the line at politicians though, ugh).

    I was the affectionate one in the family. My grandmother hated physical affection, but she put up with it from me, despite her protestations.

    Dave doesn't like to be touched socially and he would rather not hug and kiss anyone in greeting. However, he and I are affectionate together, though I keep the casual patting to a minimum.

    Horses for courses. I think it's important to respect people's bodies. If they don't like being touched, then don't touch them. If they are enthusiastic huggers and kissers and you like that too - WINNING.

  30. Rose: Horses for courses, absolutely. If someone hates being touched, fair enough, and trying to do so is just asking for trouble. I also like casual patting (of Jenny, that is) but I have to be careful not to overdo it.