Michelle Obama + The Queen of England = The touch heard 'round the world.
Modern Manners Guy here with a-- okay, I'm just gonna take a little step back here. There. Much better. I can't concentrate while someone is in my space. No offense. Well, the news media went berserk earlier this month when the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, swapped an affectionate touch on the back or hug with The Queen of England. Touchgate 2009 became front-page news and even prompted a statement from a Buckingham Palace spokesman. So when is it appropriate to hug? And when does a hug become an international incident?
Societies across our globe view personal space very differently. In many places it’s not uncommon to see friends interlocking their arms as they walk down the street or standing so close that they must know exactly what each person had for lunch. Then there are places where walking too close to someone might accidentally end in marriage. On a personal level, each of us has a certain level of comfort when it comes to the distance between ourselves and the nearest human. This level of comfort may or may not be tied to a particular culture. Though we all have different opinions on how close is too close, there are some general rules everyone should follow in order to be sensitive and more mannerly.
For the friendly crowd, start off with a bit of a wide berth when getting to know someone. Handshakes are appropriate until a stronger bond is forged. Get to know your new friend's personality before encroaching on his or her personal space.
Many folks, like myself, who are from the Southern United States tend to go straight for hugs. This gesture can break down walls quickly, but should be self-policed as it can also make someone very uncomfortable. It's fine to simply ask, "Do you prefer hugs?" The answer may be no, in which case you don't get your feelings hurt, fall back to the handshake, and save yourself from a restraining order. It’s typical for there to some form of physical greeting. If you aren’t particular about which greeting, you might try to read the other person as they approach. An outstretched hand by the other party will settle the situation into a handshake, but if the other person leans in or slightly turns to the side as they approach, you might be looking at a hug. Don’t panic! Stick around for more about hugs in a bit.
Courtship is a different matter. The most exciting part of dating and building a relationship with a romantic interest is working out the physical aspect of the relationship. Nothing gets the heart pumping like taking the plunge and holding hands for the first time. I'm not a relationship expert, but I do know that it's important to respect boundaries. Be sensitive to your partner and discuss things so you are both on the same page. Respond quickly and respectfully to any negative feedback, and keep communication open. The sooner you build the habit of talking things out, the better your relationship will be.