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Urban Etiquette

Ellen Vanstone answers your questions about the annoying behaviours, poor manners and impatient encounters that dot the days of a city dweller.

Urban Etiquette: How do I dodge unwanted hugs?

Even though some of us are culturally programmed to hate hugging, and even if the role-modelled hugs on TV are fake, fake, fake, the huggers are not the weirdos here.

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Dear Ellen,

I started seeing a new hairdresser about a year ago, and she does a fantastic job with my hair, so I don’t want to give her up. The problem is she’s started hugging me at the end of each appointment. It’s not sexual or weird, but it is a bit “too much” for me. What is the polite thing to do in this situation?

S.H.

Dear S.H.,

You are not alone in being bothered by the rampant rise of hugging. It’s reached epidemic proportions over the past couple of decades, causing confusion and dismay for those of us raised in homes that resembled a touchless car wash — lots of noise and horrendously sloppy behavioural output, with zero actual contact.

I attribute the phenomenon to a more diverse society. Psychology Today cites a 1966 study of couples in coffee shops around the world, and counted how often they touched each other’s hands, backs, hair or knees. In Puerto Rico, it was 180 times per hour; in Paris, 110 times per hour; in Gainesville, Fla., twice per hour; in London, never. In my view, the infiltration of huggy behaviour into British and North America society has also been exacerbated by touchy-feely shows like Friends and Entourage (“c’mon, let’s hug it out”).

But even though some of us are culturally programmed to hate hugging, and even if the role-modelled hugs on TV are fake, fake, fake, the huggers are not the weirdos here. Studies show that consensual, non-sexual physical contact between humans is not just normal, but often beneficial.

Carnegie Mellon University researchers found that regular hugging resulted in more resilience to infection associated with stress, and less severe symptoms when illness did occur. A University of California Berkeley team reported that during the NBA’s 2008-09 season, two of the top teams, the Celtics and the championship Lakers, did the most non-play patting, high-fiving and hugging. Other studies show that well-cuddled babies grow faster, and the absence of physical contact in adulthood can lead to psychologically deleterious “skin hunger.”

This doesn’t mean you have to submit to hugs you don’t want. It’s OK to back off with a polite excuse (you have a cold), or use your bundled up coat or purse to run interference, or simply say, “I’m not a hugger” and shake their hand instead.

And remember, if the incoming hugger is Harvey Weinstein or the president of the United States, it’s always appropriate to add, “if you touch me I’ll call the police."

Need advice? Email Ellen: askellen@metronews.ca

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