What meaning does physical touch have for us? After enjoying coffee with a friend the other morning, we found ourselves at our cars, parked right next to each other, ready to bring our time together to a close. This girl seems particularly keen on the half-open ‘side-hug’. Personally, I am not very accustomed to this side-hug, though I have experienced it most commonly, I suppose, with the wives of some of my married friends. Still, as I was driving away, I began thinking about the layers and hierarchies of different kinds of physical touch that we use in our culture to communicate various things to one another.
I thought of my time living for six months in Hungary a few years ago. There, as with many other European cultures, one greets and bids farewell to one another with two, or sometimes three, kisses on the cheeks, alternating with each kiss. This is the common and cultural greeting for first-time introductions, greeting one’s mother, father, siblings, close friends, or strangers that you are being introduced to. Sex, or gender, is here irrelevant. Occasionally, the handshake would be used between myself and an older professor, for example, with whom there was not much familiarity, a relationship connection we did not intend to see again. But the cheek kisses were almost entirely consistent and present. One had not said “hello” or “goodbye” without this.