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Smile-breaks

Greetings!

     Do you greet your friends with hugs? or with handshakes?  Or do you just say, "Hi!" and hope no one makes a move toward you?
Me, I'm a hand-shaker.  Not of the formal type.  More like the friendly type.  I hold out my hand, look in your eyes and give you a friendly smile—if you're smiling at me.  Otherwise, I can look as cool and unimpressed as you can. 

     My first mistake was to marry a hugger.  He greets everyone with a big, friendly hug.  Makes me look kinda cold, in comparison.  Especially when it's my family he's hugging so warmly.  And at social events, I reach out my hand in a friendly fashion and then he steps up and enfolds our guest in an exuberant hug. 

     Well, I'm trying.  But I've got a lot to overcome.

     My family wasn't much into hugging.  We all loved each other and respected each other, but hugging just seemed kind of superfluous.  Plus, I grew up in Maine, where you're lucky if someone adjusts his chin an inch or so to acknowledge your presence.  Rushing up to someone and grabbing him with both arms is a bit risky in Maine.

     Topping it off was my great-aunt Aggie in Washington, D.C.  Great-aunt Aggie was the only known relative on either side of my mother's and father's families who always, always! gave big, warm, smarmy hugs, complete with wet lips pressed against the cheek.  She had other eccentricities, but this was the one we prayed to escape.  We never did.  Mom and Dad stood over us in great-aunt Aggie's parlor and smiled – actually smiled! – as we squirmed and jostled, trying to disappear into the elegant Oriental carpets that covered the polished hardwood floors.  I still remember the feel of great-aunt Aggie's stiff corset under her slippery silk dress as she hugged me long and tightly, until I almost couldn't breathe.

     I was always relieved to get back to Maine, where no one ever even thought of hugging anyone.  But then we moved to California.  Friendly, casual, everyone-loves-everyone California.  And I married a hugger.  There was no escape.

     I remember the first company party I went to.  My hugger husband went around hugging everyone and then introducing me.  Each time, I held out my hand and looked into the person's eyes to – you know, size him up – when suddenly I found myself enclosed in a most energetic, great-aunt Aggie style hug.  By a complete stranger!

     Good thing I had all that practice with great-aunt Aggie's hugs.  I just waited 'til the hugger was done, and stepped carefully back a pace.

     "Nice to meet you," I murmured.  And thought silently, "But it would've been nicer if you hadn't just crushed every bone in my body." 
Not everyone hugged me that enthusiastically.  There were gentleman hugs and ladylike hugs – hugs that seemed to say, "Well, we have to do this, but we wouldn't want to rumple our suit or muss up our hair, would we?"  And then, ever so gently, the arms took the proper position and encircled my body—without actually touching any part of it.

     I gave a little speech about hugs and handshakes at my club last spring.  I'm not sure I should've done that.  Most of the members are huggers—some avid, some casual, and some just reciprocal, huggers.  My speech—in which I proclaimed myself to be a hand-shaker—caused great consternation.  At the meetings now, members come up to greet me, then suddenly reel in their arms as they remember aloud, "Oh, that's right.  You're a hand-shaker."  Then they stiffly hold out their hand, as if we'd just been introduced at the White House.

     Occasionally—in exceptionally exuberant moments—I greet a member with wide-open arms.  This totally confuses them, but they're usually quick to recover and take advantage of my unexpected largesse.

     So I'm learning.  Years of marriage to a hugger, combined with years of residence in one of the most hug-prone states in the Union, is breaking down my tried and true greeting of a friendly handshake with a smile.  But I keep it handy—for special occasions.

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