Monday, September 21, 2009


I am a handshaker.

You and I meet for the first time and I will likely stick out my hand, expecting you to grasp it in return.

I'll do so at the start of our initial interaction, and when I'm leaving you I'll probably repeat the ritual accompanied with a pleasantry expressing how delightful it was to make your acquaintance. It doesn't matter if our meeting is of a professional nature or not, for I am most comfortable beginning any interaction with a display of detached amiability. A quick grasp, a couple shakes, and we've initiated our relationship. (Sounds a bit like the completion of the male peeing ritual, doesn't it?)

When I was a snotty youth and dating from time to time, one of the tricks Sue would employ to assess the little fellers I brought home was to judge their handshake. Did he initiate the ritual? Was it a firm grasp? Did he have clammy hands? Sweaty palms? Did he execute the dead fish handshake some think more appropriate for women than the aggressive grasp? The boys that failed the handshake test were those that quickly gripped my ma's paw in a wimpy, noncommittal gesture.

It's awkward for me when a woman I'm shaking hands with offers me only her fingers to grasp. I feel like I'm touching something I shouldn't. Instead of the bent wrist and gentle squeeze, give me your palm, grasp my hand firmly and shake it. Let me know you're there. Give me just your fingers to hold, and I feel like a creep.

Some of my proudest moments are those when a new acquaintance, post shake, comments on the strength of the clasp and asks me to repeat the gesture. Those moments are the ones when I know I just did the mother proud.

I am a handshaker, but I am not a hugger. That method of contact is too familiar.

Some folks hug by habit and do so with impulse. For some, it's innate. When I discover that's the variety of individual I'm dealing with, I deploy my signals. The body language tricks that say, I'm not going to hug you. I like you okay, but I'm not going to make my body available for you to squeeze. Acts like taking a few steps back as we depart to go to our separate cars. Turning my shoulder toward them, rather than facing directly. Quickly sticking out the hand to shake before they can spread their arms and lean in.

But there are dullards, men and women alike, that don't clue into my physical communication, and I've had to spell it out for 'em: Do not hug me. I'm not a hugger, and it's nothing personal. Like that last bit is any kind of effective in preserving their tender feelings. They're going to internalize my rejection as a personal insult no matter how well I cushion it. It's not you, baby. It's me.

However, there are some people with which the friendly hug is unavoidable. If a doctor is a hugger, I'm not going to sit 'em down for the Don't Hug Me talk. If I have a boss that hugs upon departure, I yield to the ritual but raise my eyebrows at the unprofessionalism as I peer over their shoulder. In many of those situations, sticking out the hand before the hug's in play can effectively preempt the body squeeze, but if the hugger beats me to initiating the closing contact, there's really no option but to give in.

And when I do succumb, there's the question of how to hug. Is the hugger doing a side-squeeze? Are they going for a full-body gesture? And if it is a full-frontal, where do I put my face? I'm short in stature, so my face is most often going to land on the hugger's chest or neck. If we don't choreograph our hug appropriately, I could end up nestling into a bosses neck or getting makeup on the lapels of a married man. And then, when we break away from a poorly coordinated hug, there's the concern that the initiator may have read something into the face folly. They may assume my intent was to get cosy when that wasn't my aim at all, as I wasn't thrilled about the interaction in the first place.

Huggers worldwide: if you lean in to wrap your limbs 'round the body of another, you'd best prepared for the sometimes creepy consequences. To stave off such discomfort, I recommend you give me your hand. I'll render a grasp to remember.


Misti said...

Handshaking: It was drilled into my head in highschool when we took classes on learning how to find jobs, ie: resumes etc, that we should have a very firm handshake. Now, I will never been like some of the men I've shaked hands with, very firm, but I do a good grasp and can shake well. But I despise it when a man or a woman, more disappointing with a man, cannot shake hands! Come on, grasp a bit there! Ugh. The women, I forgive a little, but they should still know better.

Hugging: I'm a Texan so hugs are very common. Now, hugs are, at least for me, reserved for those I have known a long time or feel comfortable with doing this. Not for a business relationship.

Kiss on the cheek: It has taken me awhile to get used to, but in South Florida there is a huge Latin influence and everyone kisses each other on the cheek, whether they know them or not. The first few times people I barely knew started kissing me on the cheek, it was awkward. Sometimes I'd think they were leaning in for a hug and then there'd be the the cheek kiss/touch. It's still hard to get used to.

kathryn said...

I am not a touchy person at all. The only person who I break this for is my mate. I could cuddle Josh all day and night long, but other than he I don't really want to hug you. I go through the motions if someone forces it on me, but I keep as much of my ample bussoms to myself as possible by side hugging, or by scrunching my shoulders forward.

I too have a strong handshake and I am very dissapointed when man or woman gives me the "dead fish" handshake. Come on grow a pair and shake with a firm grasp! I won't break.

Misti that kiss on the cheek thing would really put me off. I am not sure I could endure that without jumping back.

Jessica said...

if by happenstance we ever meet, i'm giving you the biggest squeeze of your life. ha!

kidding of course.

i love to hug, but there's a time and a place. my CEO at work is a hugger and a cheek kisser. freaks me out. especially since i went to sexual harassment training with him. and they seriously should have failed the guy.

{Erica} said...

My husband can't stany anything less than a firm gripped handshake. He lived in Chile for 2 years where the men greeted him with a limp fish grip and the women gave him the three finger shimmy.

I often give him one of these greetings when he reaches for my hand to tease him but the joke's on me because he quickly retracts and then refuses to hold my hand.

I'm not a hugger for the most part. But I'd rather be a hugger than a cheek kisser FOR SURE. My grandpa would seriously lick his lips before splattering a wet kiss on each cheek and it was not fun. Not at all.

Ashley Thalman said...

Oh my! No. Please do not shake my hand. Please.

This is what goes through my mind when someone extends a hand,

"baby puke, nose-picking, bathroom door, a scratch 'down there', wiping, sneezing, snorting, sniffling, eye itch".

But rest assured that when shaking is the only option, I extend mine and let them know I', there.

Sue said...

Working in Church callings took care of any heebie-jeebies I had about hugging.

And yes, I still judge boys by their handshakes. If an 18 year old gives me a limp fish, I make him do it again until he gets it right. He's going to be representing my church for two years and I don't want him to come off as a wimp.

L said...

I am with Ashley on the handshaking. It may be in part to reading client files and seeing they lack hygiene. I prefer not being sick but when a handshake is in order I will give in, followed by some hand sanitizer.

Maria said...

I am a hugger, and so are all of my family members. We just like to hug - eachother that is, not complete strangers, or even acquaintances for that matter. There is nothing more awkward than being stuck in an embrace with someone you don't feel comfortable being embraced by. It is just plain old weird,and I, being a hugger get that. Unfortunately there are a whole lot of other huggers out there that don't.

Natalie said...

I've become a hugger and it surprises me every time. There's this one guy who likes to shake my hand REALLY HARD and I always wonder what that's about. I was raised to have a firm grip but I secretly envy girls who give you the limp hand, like they're so precious and dainty. So, hugs anyway. One armed. No pats.