I’m a hugger. I’ve always been. I enjoy sharing good hugs with my loved ones and I will hug someone I know (and like) in a hot second. Add to that, I’m a pretty casual person, so I’m even more inclined to be huggy. However, I’m sometimes at a loss as to how to greet people I’m meeting for the first time in a personal setting. Business situations are clear – you shake hands and that’s it. But in personal situations where, for example, I’m being introduced to the family member of a friend, do I hug them in greeting or do I shake hands? Even worse, do I stand back and wave from afar? I have no idea.
Although my natural inclination is to hug, I’ve learned to stop doing that because saying, “I’m a hugger,” in explanation isn’t always enough for non-huggers to be OK with my hugs. Instead, I’ve accepted that not everyone likes to be hugged, especially by a stranger, and I’ve started looking to the other party for my cue. I look for the twitch of the hand that indicates that they’re getting ready for a handshake, or the slight leaning forward of the torso that indicates they’re getting ready for a hug. But herein lies the problem: sometimes people don’t give a clear sign as to which way they want to go and then things just get awkward.
I don’t know if this has happened to you, but here’s why I’m even talking about this. I met someone a couple of weeks ago and the meeting rolled out on an initial sea of awkwardness…well, for me anyway; I don’t know how they felt. It was the relative of someone I know who had even done me a favour before I met them. When I approached them to be introduced, there were absolutely no body language cues for me to follow, so I went with the safe option of shaking hands. But in the middle of me sticking out my hand to them, they kind of leaned in for a hug so we ended up in this awkward hug-shake situation, with our right hands in a handshake between our hugging torsos and our left hands patting each other’s back in the lamest way imaginable. Awkward, right?
I’ve also been in situations where I’m going in for a hug, like all-in, 100% leaning in for the hug, because I think that’s the cue I picked up or I think the situation warrants it. Then halfway into me leaning in for the hug, the other person sticks out their hand for the shake. Awkward hug-shake. Or it might happen vice versa, with me sticking out my hand thinking that was the cue I picked up, but the other person leaning in for a hug. And again we end up in an awkward hug-shake.
I have no idea how to recover from that. I guess you just act like it didn’t happen and try to smooth over the awkwardness but it always seems to linger at that initial meeting, you know what I mean?
Of course, as a newly minted world traveller, I’ve met quite a lot of people over the past several months and I’ll meet many more in the future. Most of these new initial meets go off flawlessly with a handshake. After all, I’m living in a Muslim country so I’m not trying to offend anyone by getting more physical than they’re used to. Plus, as casual as my working environment is, it’s still a working environment, so I don’t hug my colleagues for any reason, unless they’re leaving for good (A was the exception; we became friends, not just colleagues).
But what do I do about the personal situations that arise from time to time?
Remember when I was on my way back from my vacation and I met the Jamaican pilot and his family for coffee in the airport? First meeting, no awkwardness, absolutely none. It was unhesitating hugs all around. They were hugging me, I was hugging them, it was a wonderful hug-fest. Not so, this other meeting. Just plain awkward.
I suppose there’s no solution, really. This is life so there’s bound to be awkward moments, and some of them will come because of weird hug-shakes. I guess all I can do is keep trying to read the body language cues so I minimise the lameness probability, but that’s all I can think to do. Any suggestions are welcome, please!
And honestly, this isn’t a huge, life-changing deal. But a little thing that can make life go a little bit smoother for someone is a good thing. Right?