Dated – March, 2016
I grew up in India. Scratch that. I grew up in Patna. While I have a lot of good things to say about the pseudo gangster town (because it is still home), my wonder years had a few very strong social repercussions. For the uninitiated, Patna in the dark ages (aka the Yadav rule) redefined insecurity. Of the psychological and physical kind. Had written a post few years back which may give you a better insight.
To cut a long story short, maintaining distance was a healthy habit. I mean you really couldn’t gauge what a naive handshake could potentially trigger. So, mum said ignore strangers and be polite (from a distance) to the ones you know. Only close friends (after a parental inspection) were allowed in our home and our hugs. Introductions were usually followed by a smile and a ‘hey’ from a foot away. Or more. And I am not ridiculing this. To a very large extent, you are better off in India with this approach.
Fast forward from Patna to the last six-seven years. Thankfully, the last few years have been interspersed with a fair amount of travel. Traveling with backpacks and staying in hostels. Which meant meeting a lot of people from countries we didn’t know too well. This was akin to answering a multiple choice question, where all the choices seemed like valid answers. Some people do the standard handshake, some hug, then there are some who kiss on the cheek and of course there are some who smile from a distance and say ‘hey!’. And its not like you get about an hour to evaluate your options. I mean you really don’t need to. Its a hello after all! But the thing is, you have a fraction of a second to make the call, and sometimes when you make the wrong call, it can be a little awkward.
I still remember the times I decided to go with the handshake and the recipient wanted to go with the hug. That never ends well. Really. Never.
All I can say is I have gotten better at making a self deprecating joke every time this happens. I still get it wrong. But I get it right too. 🙂 And if I had to go back in time and meet the mini-me growing up in Patna, would have told her that ‘Hey kid! World ain’t that bad a place. Strangers can genuinely smile at you and a hug is warmer than a handshake. Maybe not here, but you will see.’
Footnote – ‘Sup’ is not a greeting. No dilemma there.