I remember wandering through Hyde Park one sunny, spring afternoon. I had just moved to the big, scary city of London, and I was feeling a little overwhelmed with life. I was contemplating either a) drinking myself into a mild stupor, or b) diving fully-clothed into the Serpentine, when I saw him: a handsome, young man of about 20. He wore a black t-shirt and faded blue jeans. His hair was messy (on purpose) and he held a placard in his hands. It said: Free Hugs.
I walked up to him, unashamedly, with my arms wide open. He smiled as he turned toward me, and then we embraced, for like five seconds. We released. I thanked him. Then I backed away awkwardly. Then I went home to my life, and my husband.
I have to say, hugging a stranger is a bit weird. Of all the strangers to hug, I think he was a pretty good one, but it was still a bit weird.
At the time, that hug felt like it might save me from a) a long, slow death from liver failure, or b) Naegleria fowleri, a brain-eating amoeba that lives in lakes. Looking back, that hug feels like I put my arms around a complete stranger and then pressed my body against his. I didn’t press hard (I promise), but it was still pretty intimate.
A hug is a form of non-verbal communication, usually indicating affection, familiarity, or love. A hug can be a great thing, if it is requested or sought, and agreed to by both parties. Sometimes a hug is unwanted, ill timed, and embarrassing for everyone involved.
My favourite kind of hug is the Over-under, where one arm is over, and one arm is under the other individual’s corresponding arms. Some people consider this the ‘traditional’ hug for hellos and goodbyes with people you like. If either individual is holding roast beef in a fanny pack, or waist pouch, this hug is referred to as, The Roast Beef Sandwich. Fact: Women are more comfortable with this hug variety.
Another favorite hug of mine is the Side Hug (a.k.a. The Uncle Bill), where two people get close, then turn sideways so the hips touch, with no frontal contact. One arm is put around the other, while the other arm hangs loose at your side.
My least favorite kind of hug is the Pat. There are two varieties of the Pat: the Lady Pat and the Man Pat. The Lady Pat is where two ladies get close enough to put their arms around each other, but rather than embrace, they pat the other’s back as though they were choking on a peanut. The Lady Pat is far worse if one lady embraces while the other lady pats. Fact: Women who pat are insincere and condescending. The Man Pat starts off as an Over-under, until the men realize that their bodies are too close together, so they slap each other on the back to prove they are not gay.
The Bear Hug is any embrace that is too long and too tight, where you feel as though you are trapped by an 850-pound carnivorous mammal (like a brown bear).
The Crusher is like the bear hug, but it feels as though you are trapped by a 1700-pound carnivorous mammal (like a Grizzly bear).
I’ve compiled a short (but necessary) list of hug tips, which I hope you will find helpful as you navigate the world of non-verbal communication.
1. It is good to carry a big baby, a small dog, a bag of groceries, or a basket of laundry to avoid a full frontal hug. You may still get a side hug, but your dignity will remain intact.
2. If you would like to hug someone, and then you realize that you are of drastically different heights, you can either go up on your tippy-toes (if you are the short one), or squat (if you are the tall one). Fact: the hug will still be super awkward.
3. If you plan on hugging someone, remember that they are not a piece of exercise equipment. Do not lift them up, even a little bit, and even if you are certain you can.
4. Hugs should last no longer than two seconds*.
* unless, the hugee is: dying, a baby, needing the Heimlich maneuver, or it is an airport farewell situation.
Even though the hug is more hygienic than a handshake (where germs are transferred through skin contact with door handles, handrails, telephones, toilet seats, and genitals), and transfer few (if any) germs (unless you are unclothed), sometimes a wave does the job just fine.