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Charlie Hatton
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A Touchy Subject

Being a fumbling, socially awkward doofus isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sure, I make it seem effortless — even glamorous at times. But there are certain social pitfalls that are difficult for me and my fellow floundering fools to avoid. Chief among these is the issue of ‘appropriate bodily contact’.

Nothing strikes fear in the heart of an intrepid introvert trying to play nice with others more than the question of how little — or how much — touching is called for in a given situation. No other means of interpersonal interaction keeps us lying awake, fretting and sweating, like the anxiety we harbor over appropriate bodily contact.

(Unless maybe it’s anxiety over inappropriate bodily contact. Or usually, the lack thereof.

But that’s a different post altogether. One pitfall at a time.)

“Maybe our parents never hugged us. Or hugged us too much, or too hard, or too soon after a large starchy meal.”

I’ve personally had my share of sleepless nights, stressing over the finer points of social protocol. I’ve stumbled through nightmare scenarios involving ‘The Goodbye Hug’, ‘The Job Interview Handshake’, and that dastardliest doozy of them all, ‘Greeting the Father-In-Law’.

(Do you shake the man’s hand? Hug him tightly? Loosely? Pat him on the ass and tell him, ‘Good job?

I’ve never entirely figured that one out, which may have strained the relationship with my own father-in-law a bit. Mostly because I try something different every time.

Last time I saw him, I punched him in the arm and made raspberry kisses on his tummy. Man, was that an awkward Thanksgiving dinner.)

Who knows how we gawky and graceless geeks got this way? Maybe our parents never hugged us. Or hugged us too much, or too hard, or too soon after a large starchy meal. Maybe we were shunned by the other kids during our formative years, or stuffed in one too many lockers, or dropped on the ‘interpersonal skill’ bits of our brains while our skulls were still soft.

Whatever the reasons, we’re left to play the hands we’ve been dealt. And sometimes, that involves touching people. And I don’t mean people with whom we’re rooming, are married to, or have just paid fifty bucks to behind the dumpster at Denny’s. People in those categories, we know how to touch. Namely, ‘gently’, ‘never’, and ‘for only the next twenty minutes’. Not necessarily in that order.

But what to do with the rest of the population? How to navigate the perilous straits of daily interaction with friends, family, coworkers, teammates, teachers, clients, and overzealous Starbucks baristas? If you touch too little, you’ll be seen as cold and aloof. Touch too much, and you’ll be ‘clingy’ and ‘suffocating’. Or tossed out of the coffee shop, before your grande mocha is ready. What’s a bewildered budding extrovert to do?

That’s where I come in.

I’ve performed extensive research in many areas of interpersonal interaction. I’ve observed hundreds of ‘normals’ in the wild, and taken copious notes on their methods of greeting, grasping, and grooming each other. Based on the data I’ve collected, I can now offer solid instruction to the shy and awkward souls of the world about what to do — and what not to do — in just about any social setting. For instance:

Visiting Grandma

You haven’t seen your ‘Nana’ or ‘Grams’ or ‘G-Mo Dawg’ for a while. Maybe it’s been months, or even longer? What’s the right way to show your special matriarch you love her, without rubbing off too much of that ‘old person’ smell?

Do: Give gummy old granny a hug, and a hello kiss. Whether that kiss comes on the lips, forehead or cheek depends on several factors — the quality of your relationship, the current bushiness of her ‘grannystache’, and whether or not the old bird’s already been hitting the sauce today.

Don’t: Squeeze too hard, lift her off the ground, or apply a ‘welcome noogie’. We know you love your granny, but she’s a little fragile these days. Handle with care.

Also, no matter where you move in for that kiss, remember, under no circumstances — no tongue. If anyone’s going to be licking grandma’s dentures, it’s grandma. Or possibly grandpa, but it’s best not think about that. Ever.

The Hearty Handshake

Regular, everyday handshakes are one thing. But how should you react when some overeager wristwaggler comes at you with one hand aimed at your palm, and the other ready to grab your wrist, elbow, or shoulder for good measure?

Do: Shake hands as you normally would, Ignore your assailant’s second hand, and hope the exchange ends quickly, without undue molestation.

Don’t: Slap at or brush away that second hand. For one thing, it’s unfriendly. For another, you might end up accidentally interlocking fingers, and suddenly you’re not shaking hands any more. You’re waltzing, or playing a game of Mercy. Leave the pattycakes to the toddlers, and take your handshake like a man.

Also? No tongue. It’s kind of a universal rule, really. I can’t stress this enough.

Celebrating the Home Team’s Touchdown

This one is particularly important, with the Super Bowl looming. If you’re watching the big game and your squad punches it into the end zone, where should your celebratory machinations draw the line in terms of maintaining appropriate personal space?

Do: High-five. Chest-bump. Shake hands, touch fists, and clap your chums on the shoulder. Your team’s goin’ to Disneyland!

Don’t: Embrace. Do ‘the bump’. Slap ass, jump on someone’s back, or lock arms to form a Rockettes-style kick line. Leave that nonsense for the overpaid jackholes who just scored six. If they go too far, it costs them fifteen yards; if you do, it’ll cost you your dignity. And maybe your ride home.

And remember, above all else, under no circumstances — no tongue.

I hope these words of advice will help you to avoid the social pitfalls — and possible restraining orders — of ‘appropriate bodily contact’. If only someone had told me about these things, I would’ve avoided an awful lot of trouble and embarrassment.

Also, I might still be allowed in Grandma’s house. That poor, traumatized wet-cheeked old woman.

Permalink  |  5 Comments

5 Responses to “A Touchy Subject”

  1. Mala says:

    This is an easy topic for me. I grew up with Portuguese customs so I just hug and kiss everyone. All the time. It works in all social settings and situations.

    Well except maybe with those darned job interviews.

    And when I meet strangers, it’s the obligatory three-kiss-on-the-cheek custom.

    Europeans make it easy for introverts — it’s the one-size-fits-all custom. When in doubt give a big hug and don’t forget the kiss.

  2. “Last time I saw him, I punched him in the arm and made raspberry kisses on his tummy. Man, was that an awkward Thanksgiving dinner.)”

    Im doing THAT the next time I am in an UNCOMFORTABLE “contact” situation…


  3. Tammy says: really are kinda warped..

    Funny funny should do this for a living ;)

  4. kerry says:

    interesting. i find, unless i’m married to you or closely related to you, i’d prefer not to touch you beyond a handshake. maybe. i just find that all rather uncomfortable. how about we just wave to each other from across the room?

  5. jennifer WEISS says:

    great post…..real funny.

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