The Etiquette Of Social Touch.

I was recently introduced to someone, a friend of a friend, who I was warned was very touchy feely. I was warned because he was [touchy feely] and because it’s not something I’m particularly comfortable with. I was staying with my friends for a few days and he and his friend were staying in the same house and we were likely to be socialising. Our first meeting was by chance in a shopping mall in the afternoon which in itself should have made things a little more relaxed, a chance to meet on neutral ground and say hello before we all got back to the house and had to mix in closer quarters. Even though we’d never met his greeting was a big hug and a kiss on the cheek, I wasn’t happy about it but I reciprocated to be polite.

My friends and I went out for the evening for a meal and the others went to the pub so we didn’t meet again until later and after much alcohol on all sides but right from the start he wanted to sit between us on the sofa invading personal space with the subtlety of a charging Bull. He was constantly hugging, touching and pawing us, I felt like I was spending the evening with an annoying kid, the sort that keeps poking you in the arm until you pay attention, the sort that keeps asking are we there yet, the sort that if I’m honest I wanted to slap no matter how happy, enthusiastic and ‘harmless’ he tried to be.

I admit I’m not a touchy [feely] person. Don’t get me wrong I love affection, hugs, kisses the whole shebang but with the people I care about, not someone I’ve just met. I’m more of a wave hello sort of person until I’ve had the chance to talk to them a little, got to know them a bit, to decide if we’re going to be friends. I’ve been caught out in the past more than once with the dilemma of cheek kissing – should it be one side or both? British reserve or continental chic? I was once accused of unbalancing someone because I only kissed one cheek then backed away which made an awkward social situation even more painful and that was just the greeting, saying goodbye become a whole minefield of touching etiquette! Do you hug? Shake hands? Go for a combo of all options?

Physical touch can be very persuasive or it can make people feel very uncomfortable, I’m not talking about unwanted groping which is always inappropriate but simple things like a gentle hand on the back to guide people to a table in a restaurant or a touch on the arm by the waiter which can (apparently) encourage better tips but in my opinion even with the most harmless intent social touching can do nothing but harm when used in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is often an attempt at dominance or control or a sign of insecurity and although the man who inspired this post is probably a very nice person my lasting impression is one of irritation and I remember very little about him beyond his constant need to touch which is a shame but there is truth is the saying ‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression’.

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