On hugs and howdy-do’s

Disengage! Disengage!  photo: gettingthewordswrong.com

Disengage! Disengage!
photo: gettingthewordswrong.com

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.

“Yo, Alphonse!”

“Hey, George.”

“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.


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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60 Responses to On hugs and howdy-do’s

  1. When I notice that somebody hasn’t said my name in conversation after several sentences, I flat out ask if they remember it. If they say no, I tell them my name is Gregory. I don’t know why, but I’m Gregory to several people in my building.

  2. Oh and ((((Ross)))) <——Hugs to you from Missouri.

  3. Letizia says:

    There’s someone at work who knows my name (she makes a point of greeting me by it every time we meet) and I have NO IDEA what her name is. When I try to describe her to others in order to find out what her name is, “she has brown hair, about medium height, medium weight, friendly face,” I realize I don’t have a good sense of what she looks like either and feel TERRIBLE.

  4. Katie says:

    I avoid conversation as little as possible, but in my office we have name plaques outside out cubical area so people can cheat. But for what we do, you don’t really need to know too many people beyond your team.

    Personally, I’m still in the hugging closet. No can prove I’ve ever hugged anyone, and I like it that way.

  5. byebyebeer says:

    Hugs have gotten more popular, haven’t they? Smushing our bodies up against someone we hardly know. Hugs are awkard, especially that one time I hugged my college roommate’s mom at graduation and said “good night”. Hugging is best reserved for special times.

  6. Laura Lynn says:

    Names are my stock in trade. People expect me to know thier names AND what they drink and every little nuance associated with thier drink AND the names of their kids AND where they went on vacation. ‘Hi Bronwen, How are Alphonse and Winston? Let me get that 16 oz 1/2 caf, double shot, low fat, soy vanilla cappuccino with nutmeg sprinkles and the Splenda sprinkled on the foam no lid and TELL me is Barry still in Aspen?’

    I’m telling you, Gregory, it’s nervewracking. I am a simple barista. When I was bartending for Drunky Drunkerson -read ‘getting liquered up at work’-they couldn’t remember what the hell MY name was and there was some satisfaction there. The manager would appear ‘Okaaay, who threatened Mr. Drunkerson and stole his cigarettes?’ I’d be all, ‘What?! Hey, YOU there! If you puke on the bar, Ima make you lick it up…’
    ‘You there’ was a great go-to name. Coffee people just don’t get it. ‘You there’ is not an option. They made fun of me and my sad memory. At least they did until I got cancer. Now I make them buy raffle tickets and go on ‘Fun Runs’.. Now they’re sorry…HAH!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Ooo, playing the C card. Always the trump.
      Yes, bartenders get to use all the best epithets: chief, champ, bud, fella, lady. It’s like living in a Raymond Chandler novel, I imagine.

  7. I’m horrible with names and hug-averse, but I am constantly running into people who remember me. I wish they wouldn’t. I’m usually straightforward and ask their name, apologizing for my forgetfulness.
    As for the constant use of names – this is sales technique, pure and simple. I’ve worked for a sales organization for many years and they always tell you that people love the sound of their own name. Whenever someone uses mine too prolifically (or profanely), I’m immediately suspicious that they’re trying to sell me their kids’ Girl Scout cookies or recruit me for some cosmetic pyramid scheme.
    Be paranoid, Ross, it’s the only way to navigate these shady social waters.

  8. breezyk says:

    “First base was getting your rosary fondled” –> my mom would agree haha. I find it sort of disconcerting when people insist on referring to me by my first name repeatedly when we don’t know each other well. It feels like they are trying to sell me something.

  9. Kylie says:

    Funny! How’s your book sale going? Touring the states?

  10. Hugging only…? I should be so lucky! Here in Spain, every time I leave the house, I’m having to kiss masses of strangers. It’s completely against my Northern European programming. I just hate it! One day, I’ll short-circuit…

  11. It’s funny you say that, Rosemary, because I LOVE using names (especially in writing, where I can then us a comma to offset the name…so double bonus). My SIL never uses her husband’s name when talking to him, just when referring to him; which is odd – but anyway – back to names…they’re great so use them with abandon and make up the ones you’re not sure about …. and maybe you’ll get a hug. Be assured, if it’s from me, I am not wearing wool – it makes one’s breasts itch.

  12. I got in a car accident today and a stranger hugged me. I’ve gotta say, it seemed like it was more about their need to look and feel nice than it was about me. The hug was from another woman she was short. I am tall. It also lasted too long. See, all these things factor in… I’ll conclude by stating that there is an art to the hug. If you are not skilled in the art then back off. Am I right?

  13. pinklightsabre says:


  14. Hugs make me scared and bitter. Squeezing others too hard, now that is fun.

  15. Mooselicker says:

    Someone else was actually telling me how he noticed kids hug each other a lot more these days, boys hugging boys most specifically. I think he must read your blog.

    As for the woman in your office, you need to cross paths, look at her, then chuckle and say “We’ve been working together for months and we haven’t spoken once. My name’s Ross Murray.” Then you shake hands and within three weeks she’ll be hugging you. Women have a nervous breakdown every three weeks and need hugs from new friends to cure them.

  16. Never got the hugging thing down. It’s awkward for me. Short people can get away with hugging because it’s cute and non-threatening, but I’m tall. It’s like Frankenstein’s monster chasing after someone, arms flung out, bellowing “Friend! Frieeeend!”

  17. You obviously didn’t go to one of those Catholic schools where the girls wore tons of makeup, hitched up their skirts and wore their blouses just a little too tight…

    I avoid the whole awkward “What’s his/her name again?” issue by saying “Hello there, sir!” or “What’s up, lady?” This way it feels personal-ish, but also removes the need to recall an actual name. Hitlerstalin would be a name I’d remember, though, I think.

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