Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I should be packing boxes...

...but instead I am planning to exploit the labor of the two septuagenarians who arrive on Sunday to help us move into our new house (i.e. my parents).  They are very energetic and seem to enjoy being useful, so who am I to deprive them of the fun of packing up my entire house?  Every dish I wrap is a drop of joy robbed from these deserving people.  So I am blogging instead.

In general, I think one of the best things about American culture is how few rigid social customs we have.   In some cultures, you can pretty much alienate an entire community with a single wrong gesture.   Or in France, you can pretty much alienate an entire country by not being French.  In America, you just show up, there are no rules.  Or at least very few.  There are so many kinds of people and cultures and sub-cultures that the only thing un-American is to be snotty about it.   

But sometimes I think we could stand to have a few more customs.  Like with greetings.  The French do the three air kisses (a gesture so fraught with social peril, it is probably just another French invention designed to make people feel inferior).  Kenyans always do the handshake, coming and going, no more, no less.  Japanese used to do that bow thing, not sure what they do these days.  Russians might vomit vodka all over each other, I don't know.  Americans don't know what they do.  And this makes things very awkward.   Some people hug everyone no matter what. To me, hugging seems like a "haven't seen you for awhile" greeting, although I usually hug more casually than that, mainly because I don't know what else to do.  But then if you hug someone you see often to say hello, do you also hug them to say good-bye? That seems a bit much, but again, I'm at a loss for good options.  Guys have it a little bit easier, because they can always greet other guys with a cool guy-handshake, although the guy-girl greeting remains dangerous (usually it degenerates into the "side hug," which I think is one of the more hideous greetings.  Nothing says, "Hello! Please don't sue me for sexual harassment" like the side hug).  Then there are those who just say hi, they don't pair it with any gesture of any kind, as if they are robots who will short-circuit upon human contact.

My biggest pet peeve are the wanna-be Europeans (usually people here in the northeast, large portions of which I am sure would vote to join the EU if given a chance) who do the air-kissing even though, hello, we are Americans.  We don't have universal health care, we do believe in God, we do insist on full-sized appliances, and we don't air-kiss.  The worst part of the Americanized air-kiss is that when someone goes in for the air-kiss, you never know if they are going to do one, two, or three, which is awesome because it offers the potential for not one, not two, but three chances for humiliation.   

I had a highly unfortunate incident with the air-kiss greeting  yesterday.  I ran into someone very important in my professional world who actually knows and likes me (a bit, let's not get carried away).  He came over to greet me, and we shook hands (not sure who offered the handshake to whom), but then I thought, mistakenly in hindsight, that he was going in for the air-kiss.  So then I went in for the air-kiss, I didn't want to offend if he was air-kissing, because nothing is worse than not reciprocating an air-kiss, as it sends the message of "I think you might have ebola."  So we did the first air-kiss, and I thought, OK, that was heinously awkward but it's over, whew. But then he went for air-kiss number two, in which I only haltingly participated.  Awkward pause, waiting to see if there will be third....and, no, that's it.  Two air-kisses is all we have today, because today we are only 2/3 French.  Tomorrow, who knows?  And the rest of our conversation was tainted by the ridiculous meet-and-greet.  And I am still mortified a day later.  I ask you, is this any way to live?

So I say we have a referendum and select how we will greet one another.  Personally, I think the Kenyan way is correct (and not just because I was raised there).  Handshakes all the way around.  It's friendly, yet non-invasive.  And it's clear--if someone sticks their hand out, you know what to do with it (if you don't, there is no hope for you, you need to move to Jupiter or something).  But I'm open.  Majority rules.  Now that's American.

5 comments:

  1. This is GOOD STUFF! I do have observations, but, like the awkward air kiss, I feel awkward just commenting; I wonder how much leeway I have. It's like trampling on your space. Oh well, here it goes. First, I think you lived in Kenya too long. I always thought the handshake was American??? The more I think about it, though, the more I guess you are right, especially at places of business. So, I have a proposal. . .let's have the American greeting be the exploding fist bump! YES. . .AWESOME. Okay, sorry for tainting you blog. You're funny, dude.

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  2. where's your blog jerry? Just to clarify--i realize kenyans didn't invent the handshake, they are just very consistent about it. You always shake hands with everyone, every time, hello and good bye. very predictable.

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  3. loved it! how about the business woman to woman greeting/good-bye???? i think that is the WORST! A handshake is awkward and informal, but if you barely know the woman or if she is senior to you, you aren't going to go hugging her. so then you just stand there, awkwardly, waiting for someone to make a move or something to distract you from the awfulness. I think you should start a petition or something to get this sorted once and for all. It would save me a lot of social stress.

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  4. God bless the Kenyans. It is so much easier there. Have you ever done the accidental head bonk in conjunction w/ screwing up an air kiss? That's classic. Bravo, you! Start a petition or something.

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  5. I had a whole other comment to make but I'm sitting here watching "Tombstone" and Doc Holliday just rejected the Sheriff's outstretched hand..."you'll forgive me if I don't shake your hand..."

    I have to confess, however, the Spanish two cheek kiss aided in numerous..um...er...adventures...

    Yes. Handshakes. Much better of a social equalizer.

    And blame Beth...she lead me here!

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