19 May 2021

Hello again! The return of hugging and handshakes

Since 17 May we have been given permission to hug and shake hands, and the expectation is that the weird world of Covid greeting protocols will soon be behind us. But many people will not be ready to calibrate their greetings by the government-approved calendar, and will still be feeling nervous about physical contact.

These are early post-lockdown days, and it would therefore be wise to approach the complicated world of Covid greetings with a degree of circumspection.

If you are tending to feel cautious, or a bit anxious, then you will need to prepare yourself for the onslaught. If you see someone coming in for a hug or handshake take a decisive step back, flash a rueful smile and say something deprecating like ’I’m so sorry, I’m still being super-cautious.’  In these unusual circumstances, a verbal explanation will go a long way towards mitigating any social confusion.

Alternatively you can use humour to deflect the enthusiastic greeter. Head the hugger or handshaker off at the pass by waving and blowing semi-ironic kisses from a safe distance.

If your greeter’s enthusiasm and momentum remains unchecked, brandish a defensive elbow. If necessary, an ‘It’s all about elbow bumps now, isn’t it?’ remark should stop them in their tracks. Politicians, who are inveterate handshakers, are all having recourse to this faintly comical greeting. While it lacks the sobriety and gravitas of a firm handshake, it is at least friendly and light-hearted.

If all else fails, and you’re confronted by a determined hugger, turn your face away when embracing, looking over the hugger’s shoulder.

If you have thrown caution to the winds and are keen to greet your friends, family and colleagues with hugs and handshakes, it is a good idea to look out for tell-tale signs of anxiety or unwillingness in your targets. If someone flinches and takes a step back from your proffered embrace or handshake, it’s pretty obvious they’re not ready for physical contact. Don’t be offended or take it personally; defuse a potentially embarrassing situation by shrugging and saying something along the lines of ‘Sorry I’m getting a bit carried away!’ OR ‘Oh dear, you’re obviously being a bit more cautious than me…’  It really is best to verbally comment on it, rather than let it fester.

Whatever your attitude to physical greetings, now is the time to be observant and sensitive, ready to adjust your behaviour at a moment’s notice and to be tolerant of other people’s fears and foibles.

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