Why are people in the United States so averse to hugs and kisses? I was at a recent global business gathering for my company and one of my fellow U.S. coworkers, who had spent a number of months working in Europe, walked right up to me and kissed me on both cheeks. I was a bit taken aback as this is not the typical greeting you experience at a work gathering in the United States. Several minutes later as more coworkers gathered in the lobby, I noticed that the double cheek kiss greeting was prominent with the Europeans. I guess I had heard of this friendly greeting type before, but was not expecting it to occur in the hotel lobby during a business event amongst co-workers. (I might add that this was before dinner or drinks began, so there was no excuse that this was alcohol induced behavior.)
Several weeks earlier I was at another team event with some members from Europe, Israel, and the U.S. As everyone gathered for the first time in the restaurant, there was handshaking, hugging and the occasional kiss on the cheek. To me this is normal as we all only get together one or two times a year and we are mixing European, Israeli, and U.S. culture in a room. The experience is much like when you see friends that live across the country or in another state that you only see occasionally. The difference here being that we were all coworkers. We work together via e-mail, IM, and telecon, but rarely experience the face-to-face meeting which is so different, and to be enjoyed. You feel like finally, you get to really ‘see’ each other and why not give a hug? It feels like the right thing to do. When I told a friend about this greeting tradition, the immediate response was, “you shouldn’t hug a co-worker”. Hmmm, I thought, Really? This surprised me. Although I have to admit, when I worked in the typical office where you sit in a cubicle next to your co-worker, it would have seemed a bit strange to hug your coworkers as they arrived each morning.
Hugs and kisses in the U.S. are typically limited to family and close friends. No one balks when they see a parent hug their child or kiss them on the cheek when they fall down or are upset. Similarly two lovers in the park sitting on a park bench with their arms around each other does not seem unusual. So it is acceptable for friends, family and lovers to get hugs and kisses, but what about everyone one else? Also, what is the cutoff of where hugs or friendly kisses on the cheek are acceptable?
When I think about affection in my own home, it is wildly prevalent. My 4-year-old will stand next to me and my husband and say ‘Hug’ as she pulls us together. I guess she is used to seeing us hug, so it seems weird when we don’t. She will also come up to me and say ‘Hug’, with her arms up and open, ready for the big hug. I have to say, I have never turned it down. Who would turn down a hug? You would have to be crazy. Just now her big brother ‘hit’ her with a doll triggering voluminous tears to flow down her face and she came over to me for a hug. Why is it that only children get a hug for comfort? Don’t adults need a hug for comfort too?
Recently I was in San Francisco’s San Mateo area and stumbled upon a restaurant that used “Food that Hugs You” as it’s tag line. Inside the restaurant you could order your comfort food of your choice – everything from fried chicken to butternut squash ravioli. Whatever your version of comfort food they had it. There was something about the idea of food hugging you and the comfort it brings. If food can hug, why can’t humans do it more? Have we replaced real hugs for the food kind? Aren’t humans much more able than food to hug (because we have arms?). Hugs in U.S. culture seem to have been lost along with the dial rotary telephone. The dial rotary telephone has been replaced by the iPhone (and all of us are very grateful for that) but is it really a good thing that food has replaced the hug? This might explain the rising trend of obesity in the U.S. Just like the child crying with tears streaming down their face, even the rest of us need hugs for comfort and we shouldn’t always turn to the food kind. Maybe the next time you see your friends, a co-worker you haven’t seen in a while…extend a hug or a kiss on the cheek..and not just to fight obesity, but because it makes you feel more a part of the human race. We are human, we need hugs and we should embrace that.