Ten years ago, nobody in New Zealand greeted someone else with a hug or a kiss. When you walked into a room of friends you would give a sheepish "hello" wave, no more. Just a
quick chin-raise if you were the overly confident type; an eye-brow raise for the busy. If you caught up with someone for coffee or a drink you'd simply say "hi", and sit down without touching them at all.
Today, we're very touchy-feely. A hug between mates is the norm. Women are to be kissed on the cheek; whether an old colleague, your sister-in-law, or your mum.
I'm trying to figure out when hugging other Kiwis started to become the norm. It might have had something to do with the Global Financial Crisis because I can't remember physical contact with my friends until at least 2008. Was it something to do with austerity? Did being in an uncertain world bring us closer to our fellow man?
When I greet any other male now: my friends, my brothers, my father... we always go in for the hug. For women, I'll either hug them or, sometimes, do a kiss on the cheek.
All of this is in complete contrast with the New Zealand we grew up in. Unlike Latin American and European countries, we were always very shy and stoic in our greetings. You never wanted to make a big deal when you arrived (Tall Poppy Syndrome, naturally, conditioned us to stay out of the spotlight). You also didn't want to invade another person's physical space, and hugging anybody was an unnecessary display of human affection.
Nowadays it's the opposite. If you walk into a room and only do that sheepish wave, people think you're rude. As if you're too cool to hug, or even immaturely appearing like you don't want to catch others' "germs".
I credit the rise of the single-armed "bro hug" with a lot of modern day greeting expectations. Something we picked up, I suppose, from seeing sports players do it. It starts off almost like a handshake, then you "bring it in" and end up giving them a big, manly cuddle - hips not touching, no more than two seconds of contact, of course.
Then came the "bear hug"; a greeting between men that begins with wide open arms and transitions to an "arrrhh"-type exclamation, as the two of you muse over how long it has been since you last caught up.
Personally, I love the bear hug. I give it to almost everyone. It's welcoming, it's warm, it ensures people know I'm an affable guy - or at least I'm trying to be.
Yet greetings still become problematic, because I don't want to hug or kiss **everyone**.
The other week somebody I didn't even recognise tried to give me a hug, and I was so shocked I pulled away. A hug is also really awkward when you bump into someone on the street, because you're completely unprepared for it (a bear hug, for those who haven't done it, takes up the entire footpath and forces strangers onto the road). When you're leaving a group of people and finish hugging your friends, it's also very clunky to attempt physical contact with your **friends' friends** (i.e. people you only just met two hours ago).
Perhaps the most uncomfortable greeting situations involve those friends who we can call "non-huggers". Rightly so, some people just don't like being touched. They find it invasive. It's hard to keep track of these people, though, and sometimes out of habit you'll try to hug them and be returned only with a "pseudo hug"; a light shoulder-to-shoulder grip that feels as bunglesome as it does eerily long.
There's definitely a need for some modern-day hugging etiquette for us poor Kiwis. We're not used to this whole physical contact thing - Fred Dagg never had to give anybody a hug, did he?
I hope we find ways to navigate this greetings minefield. Otherwise, we'll soon end up with a Euro-like model that sees our days consumed by multiple cheek-kissing every time we greet and leave anybody we've ever met before.