Prepare for Impact

It wasn’t happy hour. It was more like unhappy hour, and it was held at a bar near my former place of employment. At the end of this going-away party for all of us who had just been downsized (see my earlier post on this), the time came to say goodbye to my former colleagues, make sincere but doomed promises to stay in touch, and exchange final hugs.

Actually, I pretty much had to skip that last one.

You see, I live in the Midwest, and most of my ex-coworkers are born-and-bred white middle Americans. As such, they are as comfortable with the idea of hugging as China is with dissent.

One of my friends, a woman I had worked with for years, announced beforehand that she rarely hugged her family members and never her friends, so I would have to settle for a handshake. Her preemptive strike was because she knew my propensity to embrace people.

It’s not that I’m touchy-feely. Indeed, I’ve been accused of being reserved, aloof, and even insensitive. On any given personality test, I always come back as introverted and quiet (not shy; there’s a difference). Bubbly and outgoing are among the last adjectives one would use to describe me.

So where does all this hugging come from? You guessed it: the Latino gene.

Hispanics hug out of instinct. We hug loved ones and acquaintances. We hug when saying hello or goodbye. We hug when overjoyed and when offering condolences. And yes, we will even hug you.

The cultural reasons for this are unknown to me. But it’s a very real phenomenon. Suffice to say, we’re perplexed at white America’s reticence and (I’ll just say it) uptight attitude about being touched.

This can lead to painful interactions, which I have witnessed at times, where the white person sticks out a hand, and the Hispanic person looks at it as if mystified at what to do with the offending object. Depending on the relationship and the setting, you may as well spit in a Latino’s face if a handshake is the best you can offer.

Even my wife, of fine German-Irish stock, was thrown off by my tendency to wrap my arms around people. I hugged her once when we were still in the “just friends” stage of our relationship, and she figured I was up to something… ok, she was right about that one. But that’s not usually the case.

The point is that my wife, who is extroverted and expressive, was confused by my behavior. These days, of course, she reciprocates the bone-crushing clasps that my family dishes out as greetings. It’s what we do.

And on a larger level, and at the risk of getting all New Agey, isn’t this the exact right time to hug? With a collapsing economy and nonstop wars going on, I would think more Americans would appreciate a comforting embrace.

But in fact, just the opposite is true. Over the last few years, for example, several public schools have tried to ban hugging among students. It’s supposedly to decrease the odds of a physical confrontation. The irony, of course, is that a hug is the least threatening gesture that one can make. Such policies are clearly more about America’s sex-phobia and the discomfort that adults feel whenever they see teenagers touching each other. But that’s another post.

What it all means is that at some point, every American has to decide if he or she is going to follow the example of Hispanics (who, as I’ve stated many times before, are clearly taking over the country) or withdraw into a cold world where the nearest one gets to being touched is receiving an extra emoticon on the latest text message.

In any case, if you’re meeting a Latino for the first time, remember that we’re ok with a handshake for the initial encounter. After that, however, it has to be a business meeting or similarly inappropriate setting to keep us from wrapping you up.

Either that, or we really don’t like you. 


3 Responses to “Prepare for Impact”

  1. May 12, 2009 at 9:28 am

    good luck banning hugging with kids, folks. they haven’t yet learned how to be properly uptight.

  2. 2 de
    May 13, 2009 at 7:21 am

    Visiting from the a href=”http://collectingtokens.wordpress.com/2009/05/12/april-just-posts/”>Just Posts.

    I shall confer upon myself the title of honorary Latina. I’m a hugger.

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