Tuesday, 28 February 2012
The peck, the homie handshake, and other social poisons
Is there anything worse than feeling socially obliged to wrap your arms around a stranger's shoulders, flutter a kiss against their cheek, and pull back as if nothing ever happened?
When I was little, I was sick of being kissed on the cheek by adults, and my mum said – you don't actually have to kiss them, you just have to make the noise – mwah – and sort of bump cheeks. And I remember thinking, then what's the point? What's the point of kissing someone's cheek if you're just pretending? Why do people think it's normal to go around pretending to kiss people?
Then when I was a teenager, I was saying goodbye forever to the 30-something couple whose dog I walked, and from her a hug and a kiss was easy, but from him? A handshake? But that'd be too formal after I'd let go of his hugging-kissing wife; but I couldn't hug or kiss him, surely, because he was a bloke, and kind of good-looking, and I was a teenage girl, and it'd be awkward and strange, and I could tell similar thoughts were going through his head. Then when I walked away, I thought that because I liked him just as much as I liked the wife it was a shame I'd never felt able to say goodbye to him properly; whatever the hell “properly” meant.
Then just last year, as an adult, I was in London at a very Londony meeting, and I had to say goodbye to three people, strangers up until that evening. With the woman it was a case of – are we at a peck-on-the-cheek stage, or have we been promoted to hugging? Ah, both I see! You have initiative – I like that. But with the men, one was as smooth as well-whipped angel delight and moved easily in for a handshake-with-kiss, but the other seemed set for handshake alone, and I thought, that can't be right. I've bonded with them both equally. It would seem weird to kiss one and not the other. So I initiated handshake-with-kiss (and – though I can't be sure – he said “oh, okay then!”). I swear, I analysed that meeting's farewells for about an hour afterwards, when I probably should've been dwelling on all the exciting things we'd actually been meeting about.
There's a running theme in the brilliant BBC comedy Look Around You of the male presenters delivering awkward kisses to female guests. Kisses that often land in the guest's eye or on their nose. I once witnessed an attempted cheek-kiss that resulted in severe bruising. Surely nobody likes all these unpredictable methods of hello and farewell.
It seems to be worse if you're a woman, because you're expected to plant lips on every bugger that crawls into view, but men have their own difficulties. There's one I've observed especially in guys my own age. One guy goes for this handshake:
But the other goes for this:
Which can result in tangled fingers. And often the homie handshake shown above heralds a one-shoulder-clap hug, which when unexpectedly offered looks more like a move from Strip the Willow.
Barack Obama is often obliged to do the homie handshake, and in doing so he looks stupid. Because he's a 50-year-old politician, dur. In London I observed an older black man in a suit being pulled in for the homie handshake, and he sorted of muttered “oh – well – okay”. Forget the enormous history of oppression and racism; being obliged to do homie handshakes is a plight that needs more sympathy.
To summarise, every member of the human race needs an agreed-upon method of hello and farewell. Here are some suggestions.
1. Clap your hands firmly on both their shoulders. Because of the prerequisite eye contact involved, this is a great moment to say something deeply intense, like “and good luck”, or “I love you”, or “you will never be King”.
2. Take their hand and twirl them. They can then do the same to you. Longevity of the relationship can result in more twirls. Both parties can disperse feeling dizzy and satisfied.
3. Leap dramatically into their arms. A dangerous but interesting method of greeting or farewell, as there is no knowing who is going to jump first.
4. Ruffle their hair. Fond, sweet, and easy to perform, this method will also remind them not to spend so long on their stupid hairstyle.
5. Do something overwhelmingly inappropriate. Slap them hard in the face, or honk an intimate part of their body and make a honking sound. This method is designed specifically for people who never want to see each other again, such as at certain job interviews, awkward dates, or police interviews. It saves us having to utter obligatory phrases, such as “we'll be in touch” or “we must do this again” or “yes officer I killed him, but only because he tried to homie-handshake me”.