“Before You Brexit, How About a Hug?” by Georgi Kantchev. The Wall Street Journal, 5/16/2016.
A group of European expatriates in Britain are attempting to influence the natives to stay in the European Union by hugging them. They lurk in the underground stations, pick out a likely candidate, and ask if they can hug them. But public hugging goes against a Brit’s psyche, and the request is often rejected. Says one Brit, “It’s not a very British thing to do.” The whole idea may backfire.
I am a hugger—and a good one, I am told—but I had to learn to do it and practice, practice, practice. Many years ago, my wife and I became presidents of a square dance club, and square dancers constantly hug. Hugging is a natural extension of touching different partners during each set, and the touching breaks down social barriers so that acquaintances easily become friends. I felt as president I should get into it, too.
We always went to the dances with good friends about ten years older than we were. I asked the woman, who my wife considered totally safe, if I could practice on her. I suggested I hug her at the beginning of the dance, at the end, and anytime in between. She was enthusiastic about the idea.
The main point I learned was once you have decided to go for the hug, move directly in without hesitation. No equivocation, no shilly-shallying. If you hesitate, she’ll hesitate, and the whole spontaneity will be gone, leaving only an awkward grab by one of you.
My wife occasionally complained about lascivious hugs from some men, not the usual friendly hug. “What’s the difference?” I asked. She did not know, but assured me a woman could tell. I still do not know what crosses the line, but whatever it is, I am not doing it. My only principle is to keep a pure mind. All I know is the differences in women. Some are warm, full-body huggers, others are reluctant A-frame huggers. I never considered any hug as an invitation for something more, and I never grind. I admit I rarely hug men, so maybe there is a sexual component, but one well under control.
We had to teach square dancing newcomers to always hold hands, even when waiting for the next call. By just holding hands, they could tell what their partner was doing: stepping out, turning, or just standing still, without looking or even thinking about it. Men often found this difficult. They were afraid they were sending an unintended message. An occasional man who could not deal with it eventually dropped out.
When we visited Japan, the tour guide gave us gave us a quick summary of Japanese customs, including a comment that Japanese do not show public affection. A man in our group asked if a Japanese woman would be offended if he unconsciously put his arm around her. Not at all, assured our guide. Japanese women love to be hugged.
I took that to heart and hugged women all over Japan, and, unlike the Brits, every hug was received with enthusiasm. I was very popular, I kid you not, and I suspect many are still talking (or laughing) about me 20 years later.