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modern ms manners: greetings etiquette (or how to say hello and goodbye politely)

Earlier in the week, a man was introducing the Shadow Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at a press conference. Upon being introduced, Ms Bishop went up to the stairs, preparing to head to the podium and begin her address. However, this was not before the young man who introduced her tried to go in for a bit of a “lovely to meet you” smooch. Unfortunately I have not been able to locate the footage of this particular greeting faux pas, but if you can find it, you will see that the young man mistook the situation to be a chance to give Ms Bishop a friendly handshake and lent in for a kiss, only to realise that Ms Bishop was not about to readily return said kiss.

I am not suggesting that this man did anything wrong, rather, he just misjudged the situation and how he should greet Ms Bishop at that particular moment. This is quite a common experience that happens to all of us. What is particularly unfortunate about this instance is that is happened to be caught on camera in front of the press.

Unfortunately, I can too easily identify with the young man’s particular situation. I open my story with the confession that I am a hugger. My default greeting position is to hug. It does not matter if you are crying, sharing some fantastic news, or just turning up at my house – I am going to hug the crap out of you!

This is generally okay, as close family and friends have either enjoyed my (unsolicited) greeting hugs, or at least come to accept the fact that I am going to bring it in every time we meet up. The problem is, at times I have struggled to properly gauge the situation and ended up attempting to hug-greet a non-willing recipient.

The most awkward time for me would have to be at my uncle’s wedding. After the ceremony all the guests were outside of the church, mingling and congratulating the family. I was with my sister, who went up to the Father of the Bride to congratulate him and went in for a kiss on the cheek. This kiss was received warmly by the FOB, which made me (a wedding novice) think that kissing the family was the appropriate thing to do. It was not.

Turns out that my sister has met the FOB the previous night at the rehearsal dinner and the two had bonded quite well. Therefore it was entirely appropriate for her to greet him with a kiss in congratulations. As for me, I was just a random stranger who looked a little to eager to get close to the FOB. Not the best way to welcome someone into the family.

I take comfort from the fact that the same sister had a similarly awkward situation at another family event. After a cousin’s birthday party, the time came for everyone to say goodbye. After hugging my uncle, my sister went in to hug my uncle’s partner. My uncle’s partner went in for the handshake. What resulted was an uncomfortable groping on both sides, with each party trying to ignore the fact that my uncle’s partner had now lodged her hand in my sister’s ribcage.

I take two things away from this experience. First, that maybe my family has difficulty appreciating personal boundary space. But more importantly, I do not think that we are the only ones. Which begs the question, what is the appropriate way to greet or say goodbye to someone?

Do you go in for a handshake and risk being all business-like? Or do you go straight for a kiss? In which case is it a peck on the lips? Cheek? Both cheeks? Or just air kisses where you press cheeks together and make kissing noises? Or like me, do you just hug it out? Or attempt a half hug, giving enough physical contact to make the personal feel welcomed, but leaving enough space open for the person to feel like they could escape if they wanted to?

Or on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, do you just do nothing? Say hello and then stand there, suddenly unaware as to what you should do with your arms?

I blame attribute this characteristic of my personality to my mum, who is genuinely full of so much love that she basically hugs everybody. In true motherly fashion, she will be able to locate any distressed child in a restaurant and scoop them up into a comforting cuddle without any regard to the fact that this is someone else’s child. And yet, for all her cuddles, I don’t think she has ever found herself in an awkward situation, which makes me think that something about her mum-ness lets her get away with it.

Obviously I struggle with this topic, however I think a lot depends on the people involved and the situation. I definitely think you should go easy on too much physical affection until you know someone, and even then, realise they might not be the hugging type. In which case, feel free to send your hugs my way.

One thought on “modern ms manners: greetings etiquette (or how to say hello and goodbye politely)

  1. Pingback: modern ms manners: a note on meeting people you admire (or how to keep your cool when dealing with those cooler than you) | lip magazine

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