So the Channel 4 programme ‘Very British Problems‘ which debuted last Thursday wasn’t so much a comedy as just a bunch of well known people complaining about the obligatory awkwardness Brits have to endure. However it did bring about a few of those “oh yeah” moments on the subject of greetings.
The whole greetings malarkey can be a bit of a minefield nowadays, mostly where women are involved – blokes can just shake hands whether they’ve known someone for 20 seconds or 20 years. When you meet a female friend of a friend though, it could be anything. I’ve shaken hands before, but then the other person may lean in for a kiss. Ok, so there’s nothing wrong with this. But then how many times are you meant to air/cheek kiss each other? I’ve experienced one, two and three depending on where the other person is from. A lot of European countries would say two, while for the Dutch three is customary. I’ve been told by a friend who went to boarding school in France that all the students would give each other five kisses every time they greeted each other for the first time that day. FIVE. It often led to corridor congestion between classes. Luckily three is the most I’ve come across, but as I’m a one kiss person I’ve had awkward moments when I’ve pulled away after the one while the other has come in for the second. So you either have to quickly dart back in and risk a weird head butt or cheek smash, or just pull back and appear slightly cold. It’s like the pavement dance when you meet someone head on and you both sidestep the wrong way, except worse as you’ve actually made this person’s acquaintance. Aargh.
It’s even weirder if you’ve never hugged certain people before, but suddenly you do. I come from a family where we NEVER hug each other or openly show any affection. The crazy L-word is not bandied about either – what madness that would be. But over the past couple of years I’ve met up with some cousins who I hadn’t seen for years, despite living in the same city. We’re great that way. Well, on two separate occasions with cousins from different sides of the family, before going our separate ways we…hugged each other. Never happened before then. It was nice, but is this what we do now? The next time I see them do I have to hug them? Or is it if we haven’t seen each other for yonks again?? I wish there were rules for these things.
For a while now, I’ve thought it a good idea for people who don’t know each other to have one mandatory greeting, like a simple bro fist – some small level of contact but not too intimate (because of the whole “British fear of intimacy” and all that). That way no one has to have the internal debate as to what you should do and it’ll save us those funny head weave situations. Once inducted into the circle of friends (or the “circle of trust” if you like, ‘Meet the Parents’ fans) you can upgrade them to a hug if desired. Simples, right??
Until this amazing plan takes off though, it seems awkward greetings and farewells will very much remain a problematic part of British life for now.