Should a willingness to jump into the arms of strangers be considered a test of good character?
Miss Manners seems to recall its once being considered the opposite. A lack of discrimination about whose embraces one permitted and the inability to keep one's hands to oneself was not behavior that religious, social and professional leaders condoned.
Now these people don't just encourage it; they demand it.
"Lately at meetings, luncheons, etc., the speaker or person presiding has told those present to exchange hugs with the people at their table or sitting in their vicinity," reports a Gentle Reader who says she is not fast enough on her feet to make a quick exit when this happens.
"I exchange hugs gladly with my family and close friends, but I don't care to hug strangers. From the facial expressions on some others, I know I'm not the only one. It's getting so that there's always some perky lady telling everyone how we all need hugs."
A gentleman writes that he has stopped attending a church where "everybody seems to have developed a hugging addiction. Before the greeting period, the minister or a lay leader stands on the platform and virtually orders everybody to get some hugs. People I hardly know run up to me and say 'How about a hug?' At the close of the service the minister and his wife stand at the door and grab everybody before they can get out of the building.
"I don't think I'm prudish, but, strange as it may seem, I don't feel like slobbering over every Tom, Dick and Jane I meet. Has plain, everyday friendliness gone out of style? Since when isn't it possible to be friendly without getting so personal?"
"I resent having behavior patterns dictated to me. It makes me feel as though I'm in a mind control unit."
A lady reports that hugging has spread to medical laboratories. "The problem, chiefly of concern to women, is unwanted hugging and other pseudo-affectionate, non-medical touching by medical personnel," she writes. "The intent seems to be to develop an instant relationship. A number of medical technicians hug the patient far too tightly and with far too great affection as they escort the patient to the X-ray room. They then take the mammogram, all the while hugging the patient between X-rays, and they then hug the patient on the way back to the waiting room. This has happened to me three times, at three different facilities. On the last, I told the technician as she was walking me from room to room, tightly hugging me all the while, to stop hugging me. That angered her, and she went out and complained to the staff personnel that I was irritable.
"So much unrequested sympathy, so much physical affection, and all because we are getting routine tests?"
Miss Manners would have thought the era was past in which it was held that physical demonstrations among strangers would inspire people to love one another. Eventually it was noticed that it didn't even inspire them to call the next day.
Dear Miss Manners:
When a widow who lives alone has others over for dinner, who sits at the head of the table? I recently had two couples over for dinner, and one of my gentleman guests was taken aback that I sat at the head of the table. Was I incorrect?
No, but Miss Manners assures you that you would have a hard time being less correct than your guest.
First, he has no business appearing taken aback at your seating arrangements, even if you choose to place yourself in the middle of the table as a centerpiece. Second, a hostess always presides over her own table, whether or not there is a host at the opposite end.
Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.
©2005, Judith Martin