I don’t remember there being so much hugging in high school. I remember the shunning, the spurning, the savage mockery but not the hugging. Hugging was something couples did in private, if at all. This was Catholic Nova Scotia in the early eighties, you understand, and hugging was considered second base. First base was getting your rosary fondled.
It’s a shame there wasn’t more hugging when I was a teenager because it would have verified that the girls at my school did indeed have breasts – a possibility that was only rumoured and visually unverifiable due to the shroud-like wool sweaters that were standard issue at the time. The girls who wore mohair sweaters were the subject of the wildest fantasies…
But enough about my need for counselling. The point is that these days, young people hug with abandon – boys hugging girls, girls hugging girls, boys hugging boys even. Quite frankly, you are in big trouble if you are one of those people who are uncomfortable getting hugged or from Nova Scotia.
All this physical contact makes the world a better if slightly less hygienic place. It’s wonderful that young people live in an age where they can express affection in this most human way and where boys no longer have to wonder whether girls have breasts, although it’s surely much more difficult to concentrate in class.
So, hooray for the hugging. It’s positive energy and hurts no one – except for the losers who never get hugged.
I bring this up because I wonder whether another modern social habit is likewise relatively new. Like hugging, do people greet each other by name a lot more than they used to? Back in my day, people would greet you with a “Hi,” or “What’s up?” or “Get out of my way, you skinny jerk!” But I don’t recall the compulsive need to identify every single person you encounter.
“That’s a becoming sweater, Pauline.”
It’s all very fine and friendly if you’re confident of your interlocutor’s name and whether you’re using “interlocutor” properly. (You’re not.) We all like to hear our name out loud – unless your first name is Hitlerstalin, which is a truly horrible name that makes you wonder what kind of drugs your parents were on.
But when you don’t know a person’s name or forget it or aren’t sure, and you just say, “Hey… you!” don’t think that person doesn’t notice, you skinny jerk.
And heaven forbid you call someone by the wrong name. I’ve been doing that a lot lately, usually catching myself halfway through and trying to correct it: “Hey, Raymonngmammstalin.”
Sometimes when I see someone whose name I’m only 80 percent sure of, I’ll just softly mumble some vowels and hope for the best.
It can all be a bit of a social minefield. I partly think people walk-and-text not because they’re deeply interested in Tweets of the World but because they’re afraid of making eye contact with colleagues they might not be able to identify, or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.
This need to ID everyone by name may come from our contemporary fixation on self-esteem, the need for everyone to feel special and unique and hug-worthy. Hearing your name is the equivalent of everyone getting a medal at the pre-K soccer tournament.
Regardless, the onus is on you to learn everyone’s name in your school, your workplace, your prison yard, everywhere! That’s a lot to remember, all in the name of social interaction and not getting a wedgie (metaphorically speaking, of course, or maybe not).
So my point? There’s a woman who’s been working in my office for six months and we’ve never spoken. It’s too late to introduce ourselves, obviously, so we can just continue pretending that neither of us exists, right? And I should probably write off any potential hugging.