Editor’s note: Roy Green has moved back to the Bay Area after a lengthy sojourn in Quebec’s Eastern Townships.
It’s a Gallic thing. Arms outstretched, lips puckered, you’re enfolded like confused prey. A face heads toward yours and as your brain howls “how the hell do I get out of this situation semi-gracefully, before the lip-smacking actually happens,” there’s a slight sliding of the face, invariably initiated by the hugger, and the only actual physical contact may be a brushing of the cheeks. Occasionally, there is the sound of lip-smacking alongside your ear, but that’s reserved for neophytes.
Anglophones are not predisposed to the hugging/air kissing thing. In fact, I tried to keep a strategic distance between myself and the hugger-in-waiting when, as casually as possible, I mentioned my impending departure from Quebec in recent weeks. It didn’t help.
“Roy, you’re really leaving?” A step toward me, arms unfolding rapidly, eyes fixed on mine (causing me to assume the paralysed stance of a cobra’s about-to-be victim) and voila! Mission accomplished. The hug, cheeks ever so barely in contact and the unavoidable, uncomfortable question for those not born into the practice, “how vigorously should I hug?” Where’s the line between “too de loo” and “what are you doing for dinner?”
I dreaded each encounter because we Anglophones have enough difficulty with the handshake. It’s the physical contact thing again. How energetically to squeeze? Between men it cannot be a half-shake during which fingers clumsily wrap around each other without palms ever making contact. That’s plainly embarrassing. Sometimes the handshake turns into a contest of grip strength. “Oh yeah? Here let me bring tears to your eyes bunkie.” There isn’t a man alive who hasn’t experienced the wimpy, as well as the bone-crusher shake. My advice? Go for the win! Crunch the dude’s knuckles. There’s primal satisfaction in it.
But it’s the Gallic hug with the opposite gender which creates confusion. Should you engage sufficiently enthusiastically that body contours are identifiable? How long do you hold on?
Contrary to the cliché, practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice simply engenders fear and fear is the real mother of invention. “Better not! I think I’m getting a cold!”
I did share my questions over the issue after surviving an incident with a minimal formation of beads of fear sweat. “Really? You worry about that” laughed the woman at the bank.
Worry? Who said anything about worry? It’s not worry. It’s panic.
And anyway, when’s the last time someone at your bank hugged you? But then that’s another story entirely.
Written by: Roy Green