I don’t really have a cold.
But you might wonder if I was sick, since I haven’t posted in so long.
Actually, I have an excellent reason for not posting. Some might tell you I’ve been spending every free moment checking real estate listings with an obsessive, zombie-like fever. Although that might be partly true, I’ve also been doing something really important:
I’ve been planning my run for President of the United States.
You read right.
You wouldn’t expect me to get into politics, since I can’t tell you anything about fracking or the Middle East, I don’t know my own tax bracket, and I don’t really even know American History. I had the easy teacher the year we studied it, and instead of making us talk about the Civil War, he let us talk about tube tops. That sounds random, but it’s a specific memory, talking about tube tops in 10th grade history.
That said, I know what America needs, and I’m basing my platform on it:
Kiss? Double kiss? Tongue kiss? Handshake? Loose hug? Tight hug? Fondle? Nobody knows what to do. We need a strict, clear policy.
Other countries and cultures have it down. With everyone, no exception — stranger, best buddy, mother, sex partner, enemy, frenemy — they do the same thing. They double kiss. Or triple kiss. Or they’re religious and don’t touch unless they’re the same sex, in which case they double kiss, grope each other’s buttocks, and then do the hand jive.
I’d be fine with any of those options if it were just set. But it’s not. So every greeting, coming and going, is a minefield of potential micro-disaster. I can’t tell you how happy I am when someone says, “Don’t kiss me, I have a cold.”
We all know you get sick from contact with doorknobs or sneeze spray, not from kissing on the cheek. But who’s going to argue with being excused from the dreaded greeting exercise?
Here are all the ways it can go wrong, in my experience:
The Botched Double-Kiss.
One person, usually me, expects to exchange a single peck on the cheek. The other, usually a fellow American who leads a “jet set” lifestyle and calls Europe “The Continent”, thinks everyone should double-kiss. So after one kiss, I pull away just as they’re going for the other cheek, which lands them right on my mouth. And then, almost involuntarily, I make it more awkward by saying “Oh! Right, double!” or “Oh yeah, two kisses!” After which, I give them the second kiss they were anticipating, which is now the third because of the accidental lip kiss. And then, walking away, I trip.
The Head-Dance Hug
There’s a normal cheek kiss, which goes fine, and then one person pulls away because they think they’re done and can go back to their life. No, they’re not dismissed yet, because the other person is going in for a hug. So the pulling-away person gets caught off guard, and bobs from side to side with their head – “Oh, hug. This way? That way.” – while reciprocating. Even worse, they compensate for the the sloppy, last-minute quality with an overly affectionate, long, grunt. Something that expresses, “Oooh, come here, you. You’re not getting away without a hug.”
The Disproportionately Loving Hug
I do this all the time. To avoid a Head-Dance Hug, or just to get out of the kissing part, I take the lead and force a hug. And while we’re hugging, I’m thinking, “We don’t know or like each other enough to be hugging. Would I call this person to hang out or have dinner? Never. I don’t even know how we’re related except that my dad says we are. We should have just done a quick peck on the cheek.”
The Hanging-Hand Hug
They stick out the hand, you miss it and hug. You see the hand when it’s too late to go back. They withdraw the hand, submit to the hug, and pretend handshake was never even a thought. But you know they didn’t consider you hug material.
The “Meet My Friends” Fiasco
You’re out at dinner, or on the street, with a bunch of friends. You run into someone you know, who’s also with a bunch of friends. You say hi, and both wonder, “We’re moving on in a second. Do I have to introduce everyone?” You both hope not, but one of you gives in to politeness and starts the horrible, endless process. “This is my good friend, Judy.” Judy waves hi to the other group, as though that will cover it. But then someone in the other group says “I’m Brad,” sticks out his hand, Judy shakes it, and then everyone has to shake hands and exchange names with every single person, even though nobody wants to. Then, they all fall silent while you and your friend chat for a moment. When it’s time for the groups to part ways, everyone says, “Bye, nice meeting you!” But then, even though you’ve just all shaken hands hello, Brad sticks out his hand to start shaking them goodbye. Too soon! No, Brad, no!
The Clueless-with-Kids Screwup
When kids are under two, parents tell them to kiss you and they do it. They like to follow commands. They like it when you go “mwah” while kissing their cheek. But after that phase, what do you do? I hated grownups hugging and kissing me, so I assume kids feel the same way. I do them the favor of saying hi or bye with a little wave or pat on the shoulder.
But am I insulting them? Will they think, “Why doesn’t Auntie Laura want to hug me” and then grow up feeling unworthy of love? That feeling leads to destructive relationships and hard drug use. My friend Jason advised me to just give kids a fist bump, but I don’t want them to think I’m trying too hard to be cool. Also, there’s the chance I’ll miss, which, with a fist bump, is pathetic. I’d rather see the kid become a codependent heroin addict than embarrass myself with a botched fist bump.
The Dorky Demand
In an effort to avoid confusion, one person sings out an instruction, like “Kisses!” Or, “Hugs!” in the same tone you’d use to announce “Dinner!” It’s effective for avoiding all the kinds of graceless fumbling mentioned above, but it’s not cool. As soon as a singsongy exclamation like “Kisses!” leaves your mouth, you hear your voice echoing in your head, and it sounds fake and dumb. Like after you laugh too loudly.
Time for a change.
How can our country be great if we’re all constantly worried about saying hello and goodbye?
We need a flat greeting. One uniform gesture for all relationships. I propose handshakes only. And it should be a harsh law, not just etiquette. So I can be like, “Oooh, I’d like to hug you, but it’s not worth the ten days in jail plus community service.”
Or, I’d be okay with this: always assume handshake. If it’s going to be more than the handshake, one party must announce their intentions. Remember the Antioch College sex policy? Probably not. (It was during the Date Rape-y Nineties.) The school instituted a rule that you had to ask permission at each step. “May I touch your collarbone underneath your blouse?”
This policy would be like that, but less tentative, more assertive: “I’m going to hug you.” Or, “Let’s double kiss.” No, never mind, that’s creepy and too close to the Dorky Demand.
Special rule for group interactions: if there are more than two people in either group, no introductions beyond “these are my friends” or “this is my family.” No handshakes, no hassle.
Will you vote for me?
Where do you stand on Greeting Reform? Do you agree that we need it? A vote for me is a vote for smoother greetings and less anxiety at gatherings.
What other greeting disasters have you experienced? How would you solve the problem?
Also, do you know where I’m supposed to sign up to run for President? I tried googling, but can’t find the info.
Tell me in the comments.