Wednesday, February 7, 2007

No Touching!

There's this dude at work who, uh, touches you. Like, you're sitting at your desk, minding your own business, and he comes by and gives you a shoulder rub, Bush-style. It's weird. Funny when it's the German prime minister, a bit more confusing when it's you.

Maybe it's a cultural thing. I had this suitemate back in college who had the same sort of shoulder massage greeting; he was from Madison, Wisconsin, so ever since freshman year, I'd been imagining that they have a different concept of personal space out in the heartland. What the hell do I know? Where I come from, there's a tacit "keep your hands to yourself" rule: two people hugging meant they were either romantically involved or just won a football game, shaking hands was some sort of profound alien mind-meld act, and kissing on both cheeks meant you were snotty wannabe Eurotrash. I know a handshake is a massive collection of social cues, but I still feel weird. I don't want to be the guy who spearheads a campaign against shaking hands — although if I were that guy, I might combine it with a charity drive to stop the spread of the bird flu.

Every other touching gesture I can think of actually communicates something, like a hug ("It's nice to see you.") or a pat on the back ("Well done," or alternately, "I empathize with you.") or smacking someone's head ("There's a fly on your head.") Hell, that European kissy greeting actually makes it seem like you're excited and happy to see the other person, which really annoyed me while I was in Italy. I guess that's one good thing you can say about shaking hands: it's not phony. "We are in each other's presence." True enough.

But back to my own experiences with feely people, as rare as they are. I don't know how to interpret them. Are you just lonely? Do I look tense? Are you coming onto me? That would be flattering, which is why I'm skeptical. How about we all just say hi, that way it's easier on everybody.