DEAR AMY: After many years of travel and scholarship, at 60 I find myself now living in a small and tight-knit community. I like this and want to be involved, but the custom in the community is to hug everyone, indiscriminately, upon saying hello. Indeed, friends have now told me this has become the custom on the West Coast.
I am a very warm person, but I am not comfortable with this community habit.
I love to hug. The life energy exchanged in a full frontal hug is meaningful for me, with people I know well and with whom I have established communion. But to hug people I have just met with whom I haven’t yet formed a meaningful relationship is distasteful to me.
My husband says I should just get over it and go with the flow, but I don’t particularly want to. It is an ethical point for me. I don’t want to compromise my comfort and ethics because it is the custom, but I also don’t want to put people off.
So, my question to you and your readers, is how can I decline a hello hug without offending the greeter?
I have tried simply saying “I don’t hug,” offering my right hand for a shake and smiling deeply while looking into the other person’s eyes. Consistently, people are offended by my response and I have to explain further.
They seem to suspect my warm nature, yet I am sincere; I want to meet each person in an authentic manner. And to do so, I don’t want to opt in to what I feel is superficial contact that mimics meaning. Plus, I find the casual exchange of energy uncomfortable. Do you have any suggestions for smoothing each encounter? — CC
DEAR CC: It sounds as if your years of travel and scholarship have led you to view these encounters as an anthropologist might.
If so, then perhaps you can treat the natives of your new home as you might if they were inhabitants of a remote and affectionate island. If you were a respectful newcomer, presumably you would work hard to adopt the customs of the natives.
If you couldn’t respect these islanders’ customs, you would explain patiently, “I’m not much of a hugger. Can we shake hands instead?”
As a compromise and alternative, I offer you my patented “sidewinder.” The sidewinder is a sideways rather than full-frontal hug. (I’m working on a patent now.)
Be yourself, but don’t overthink it.
DEAR AMY: At a Thanksgiving dinner I met a couple with two young daughters. The girls were different ages but the same size.
When the older daughter said she was hungry, her father handed her a piece of bread. Her mother quickly added that the girl didn’t like vegetables. The father doesn’t like vegetables, either.
Raw vegetables were available as hors d’oeuvres and cooked vegetables came with dinner. During dinner the same child had more bread, a slice of turkey and a large piece of cake.
In my opinion, this girl is suffering from malnutrition. Is there anything that I can say or do that would inspire the parents to be responsible? -- Upset Diner
DEAR UPSET: You don’t need to inspire these parents to be responsible.
Unless this child has a second helping of cake that was intended for you, what or how she eats at this one holiday meal is none of your business.
These parents may be influencing the children to stay away from vegetables, but this doesn’t mean the children are malnourished, just that they are probably destined to be unadventurous and boring eaters like their parents.
DEAR AMY: My wife and I are both 86 and have been married 15 years. We are responding to the letter from “Mom” who complained about her daughter’s after-cooking kitchen mess. My wife is a good cook who leaves a glorious mess in the kitchen, so she goes into the living room after dinner and I restore order in the kitchen. It seems to be working. -- Charles
DEAR CHARLES: In my family this is also how we handle it. Whoever cooks gets to kick back after the meal while the others clean up.
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