How many of you have lived the awkwardness of salutations (especially of those of persons you have met at least once and you encounter again)? I always dread that part of social interaction now that I’m a foreigner as I never know what to do. It goes like this: I get to a place where I’m meeting a group of people with a big smile and great confidence but as I approach them individually, that confidence turns into confusion. I always have questions in my mind: Should I hug or just shake hands? Should I tap on the shoulder or just say hi? Will I ever know when it is OK to kiss on the cheek?
I wish they had Salutation Tags. They would be something like Name Tags but maybe instead of being the sticker type, they could be electronic so they could change according to the relational capacity that a certain person has with others. For example, if one of my close friends was to wear one around me, it would probably read “Kiss On The Cheek/Hug” but if she was by someone she just met, it’ll say “Hand Shake”. That way the individual approaching my friend could easily decipher the way in which to greet her.
I find it even hard to know how to greet some of my most recently acquired friends who I have now known for at least a year and, lets be honest, I couldn’t ask: Is it OK if from now on I kiss you on the cheek when I say hi and bye to you? That would just be way too weird.
Maybe an IPhone-app-genius could come up with a way for our phones to let us know if the person we’re about to greet would be comfortable kissing on the cheek or with a hug. It could also vibrate as a sign of warning: Beware of (name of the person)’s personal space bubble. You will then know to simply say hello or to shake hands. Oh, imagine how much easier social interaction would be for us foreigners! I know it would really help me because as things are now, with the majority of my “kissable” friends currently away, I find myself kiss and touch deprived.
Does that sound weird? I’m sure I already freaked you out but you see, I come from a high-contact culture where we don’t know the meaning of personal space. Thank God I have a husband and baby whom I can hug and kiss all I want because otherwise I would have to find substitutes for real touch. They exist! You don’t believe me? I invite you to read any book or article about Nonverbal Communication. I happened to take a class in college on this specific subject and actually still have the book (which believe it or not, I have open on my lap in the Touch Chapter). I am so pro-touch that I will even type some of the findings of this book in hopes to turn at least one of my readers into a believer:
“As adults we tend to become “touch-starved” (at least in American society). [Because of this], we tend to buy “touch-for-hire”. Desmond Morris has stated that we hire “licensed touchers” such as beauticians and masseuses to take care of our need for bodily contact in a socially acceptable way”.
This fragment comes from a book called Nonverbal Communication, Studies and Applications by Mark L. Hickson III and Don W. Stacks.
Not convinced yet? Do I need to push the subject a little further? Perhaps I will just share that I am also a little nervous of being the “touch-initiator” because I have made people greatly uncomfortable before; thus, after a couple of space-bubble-invasions that delivered awkwardness, I decided never to be the first toucher again.
The most notable of these invasions happened meeting one of my college roommates during my first week in the US. We were doing introductions and I kissed her on the cheek to say hi. She really wasn’t used to this so she moved away so quickly that one would have thought that I’d poked her with an invisible needle. Silence and awkwardness followed and I felt really bad for appearing as very rude.
After a couple salutations that ended up like this one, I decided to wait to be invited into the personal space bubble first. The problem is that even 8 years after my first bad experience, I still haven’t learned to identify when it is OK to cross the personal-bubble-line. Will I ever develop a sixth sense to help me figure this out or will I continue to have touch-deprived salutations ever after?