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Commentator Mildred Antenor: Hey Stranger, Keep the Hugs to Yourself

Mildred Antenor
David Tallacksen for WBGO
WBGO commentator Mildred Antenor

Now that COVID-19 restrictions have loosened considerably, people who haven't seen each other in a while are looking forward to get togethers. Folks will be celebrating post-COVID-19 with backyard barbecues, dinner parties and going maskless and one thing is sure to follow are the hugs.

As a matter of fact did you know that there's a National Hugging Day?
That's right its January 21st. When I fist noticed it, I shook my head in disbelief. Honestly, I put that holiday in the same category as national left handers day, s'mores day and national hammock day to name a few. It’s just plain silly.

I should clarify that it’s not that I don’t hug at all. I just don’t like hugging strangers. Like people that I’m meeting for the first time at a party or at a restaurant. I hug people that I’m close to like my friends and family. So sorry about that but, I’m not into hugging strangers. And when did that become a thing to invade your personal space through a hug with people that you hardly know? For me hugging means, I love you, I care about you, You mean the world to me. You are a very important person in my life. I’m going to miss you, I’m so sorry that you’re leaving town, Let’s stay in touch.

For example when friends and family members that I haven’t seen in a long time get together, it’s quite common that we hug. I’m expecting it, and I look forward to it. These are people that I know. And I can comfortably say are in my corner. We have intimate conversations and they know me quite well. But why do I have to hug a stranger? What happened to the accepted traditional hand shake? Some people do fist bumps and I’m fine with that --- but hugs for me are reserved for the special inner core of people who know me and I know them. I feel a special connection with them. I can put my feet up on the coffee tale as they say and have an authentic conversation with them without having to worry about minding my P’s and Q’s….

The Emily Post Institute, which focuses on etiquette and how people should conduct themselves in society suggests that people should not hug altogether unless you are closely acquainted with someone. The reason is simple: while you might be comfortable with it, ----- not everyone else is comfortable. Even those who might go along with it quietly may have some reservations against hugging strangers or people they don’t know intimately. It’s important to respect those points of view.

There’s also a cultural component to being hug avoidant ----- According to a study by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, people in the U.S. and England hug and touch way less often than people in France or Puerto Rico. And although the world has gotten smaller, It’s important to respect those cultural differences as well. It will be interesting to see how this culture of hugging plays out in our post COVID-19 world. Time will tell.

In this very diverse society in which we live, I would recommend paying attention to body language. When you’re meeting someone for the first time if they offer their hand instead of going in for a bear hug, recognize the signal, and give them a handshake. You can also pay attention to facial expressions. Basically, be mindful of other peoples cues. Because everyone has the right to control what happens to their body. If you’re going in for a hug and notice a frown or a look of dread in the person’s eyes, you might consider giving a handshake or a fist bump instead.

Mildred Antenor is a professor and the author of the Gladioli Are Invisible: A Memoir