How to greet people? Handshakes versus hugs versus kisses

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

A long and interesting bit about gendered professional etiquette in the USA. It is curious that this should seem so hard in the USA. In Europe there is a cacophony of rules regarding kissing — in Poland they kiss twice, in France they kiss three times, in Germany people just shake hands, and everyone feels the culture of California, which encourages hugging — yet Europe seems to have muddled through to some rough consensus about how people should great one another. In France alone, the rules are complex. Strangers do not say “hello” to one another on the street or on elevators, but friends greeting will kiss three times and some Frenchmen, showing an excess of emotion, kiss four or five times.

I am suspicious of the culture of hugging, which grew out of California in the 1960s. It has spread during the decades that wealth has been concentrating in the USA. It seems likely that the two facts are related. Casual manners have been used to suggest “We are all equals, no one is an elite, we greet each other in friendship, no need for formality.” The most ardent “I love everyone” hugger that I know is a fellow who got extremely rich thanks to his CTO role at a successful tech startup in Silicon Valley. There is an element of hypocrisy to his warmth. I worked with him briefly and found that he could flip quickly from friendliness to rage, and he could be quite vicious. The anti-elite, anti-formal attitude has gained traction at exactly the time that wealth has been concentrating into the hands of a smaller and smaller elite. I’d rather live in a country where people greet each other formally, and workers are paid what they are really worth (the Germans get this much more than the Americans).

This is from the article:

Women’s struggle with a likability double standard has been well-documented. When it comes to choosing between your personal comfort level and accommodating someone else’s ego, it can be hard to stand your ground and risk your reputation. Most of the time I find myself giving into the expectation that I be cheerful and chill. “You’re such a guy’s girl,” my roommate told me once. She intended it as a compliment, but to me it meant only that I succeed in hiding my own distaste or frustrations with the actions of the dudes in my life. It’s hard work to stick up for yourself and risk ruffling feathers every day, especially when working in smaller industries where who you know and who likes you often translates to opportunities. And so, in my weaker moments, I hug who I gotta, smile, tell everybody they’re “the best,” and deal with my frustrations via group texts with my girlfriends. It’s better this way, I tell myself.

“We’re all supposed to be bubbly, and somehow a hug really reflects bubbliness,” Post, the etiquette expert, told me. She described some of the ways in which casual culture has raised the standard for cheerfulness: All our emails are punctuated with gifs, and a period at the end of a text message reads like a death stare. If that’s the case, Post wondered, perhaps hugs are just some men’s clumsy way of showing women that they don’t hate them? “It doesn’t have to be unfriendly just because it doesn’t come with exclamation points. I think that the hug is a physical extension of our overuse of emoji and exclamation points.”

So, what happens when women buck the status quo by refusing to offer up a hug? “I often get an awkward wave from males,” one female professional in the environmental science field told me, “but I hold out my hand even more awkwardly until they shake it.”

The congressional staffer sees her handshake as an important key to establishing her professional footing on the Hill, and resists hugs at all cost. “As a younger staffer I never want to hug,” she explained. “I’m already trying to prove myself and act older. So I usually am the first to extend my handshake and make it firm to set the tone that we will not be hugging or kissing.”

But even when a woman has seemingly won the handshake showdown, the condescension doesn’t stop. Many men love to say something like, quite the handshake you’ve got on ya when a woman offers something more vigorous than simply slipping her limp fingers into a man’s meaty palm.

“My dad taught me when I was young to always give a firm handshake and said it would be important for the rest of my life,” a female blogger for a digital media company told me. “And men comment on how firm my handshake is 100 percent of the time.”

A photographer based in the Midwest told me told me the same thing, which she jokingly boiled down to the sentiment, “‘But her wrists are so frail and pasty looking!’”

Chin, the tech industry professional, describes her handshake as “stronger than most men I know.” After noticing her impressive grip at a company event, she said “a bigwig sales guy even challenged me to arm wrestle. He lost, of course.” But Chin said that holding her ground in front of men has resulted in her being “feared without reason”—further proof that likability and huggability go hand-in-hand in the professional space. In order to get men to like you, you have to put up with them hugging you, because a firm handshake could shatter their egos.

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