I’ve always been a fairly ‘no contact’ kind of person. Which is fine, because I’m British. I’m allowed to keep a reasonable amount of distance between my body and everybody else’s; it’s a part of my culture. When I meet somebody for the first time, I’ll offer a handshake, and from then on I’ll give some sort of dappy half wave. Family members and long lost friends are treated to a hug maybe twice a year. I was happy with my system. Then I moved to Italy, where they kiss. All the time.
This was not unexpected, but did cause me all sorts of unforeseen problems. Air kiss or actual lip to skin contact? Which cheek first? How many kisses? And, gravest of all, how to avoid being kissed by complete strangers?
I stumbled through my time abroad, quietly panicking every time I met someone new, making faux pas after embarrassing faux pas and never really nailing the greeting etiquette thing. Moving back to Blighty, I was at least relieved that this particular social nightmare would be over.
But something terrible has happened whilst I’ve been away. London’s gone continental. Thank you, Easyjet and Ryanair for allowing impoverished twenty somethings to travel the world. Thank you, Netflix for allowing even the lazy ones to stream the continent directly into their living rooms. Thank you, Facebook and Twitter for allowing us to know so much about each other’s lives that we think we’re all best friends. I’ve come home to a kissing nation.
It’s actually even worse here than it was overseas. This phenomenon is not a part of our culture. We’ve stolen it from friendlier nations around the globe, and WE DON’T KNOW THE RULES! At least in Italy, the Italians know what they’re doing. They know which cheek to aim for. We Brits can’t settle on the Italian way, the French way or the Outer Mongolian way. We’ve just mashed it all up together.
This causes serious problems for socially retarded folks like me. Not only must I be constantly on my guard against unwanted physical contact. I now have to figure out in the split second after meeting somebody, what kind of contact they’re going to go for. I have absolutely no radar for this kind of thing. I’m messing up all the time. This week, a girl I’d known for two days caught me unawares with an attempt at a kiss on the cheek. I totally didn’t see it coming. I froze. It ended in a kind of awkward side hug. I think she might just ignore me the next time we run into each other.
Today, I’ve hit rock bottom. It happened with my mother. We’d not seen each other since January. This, for me, ticked both the ‘long lost’ and the ‘family’ boxes of my greetings categorisation, so I went in for the hug. She went for the fancy air kisses. It wasn’t pretty.
This madness has to stop. Someone needs to publish some sort of a guide to greetings. The rules around which greeting is appropriate when and with whom need some serious clarification. More importantly, we need to be made aware of the telltale signs that reveal to the recipient which type of greeting they need to be braced for. I’d write this thing myself, but I obviously have no idea what’s going on.
The alternative is that we put a complete stop to all kissing, hugging, handshaking and the like. I propose a return to a simpler time. A small bow or curtsey could take the place of all other greetings, All we social retards would need to know then would be our own gender. Failing that, to be honest, I’d be happy with just a nod of acknowledgement.