By Rick Kaempfer
As I get older, I’m getting less and less comfortable in social situations. It’s not the small talk that gets to me, it’s the greetings.
You see, I was brought up by Germans.
Germans have one standard greeting that works in all situations. It’s called a handshake. It’s nothing fancy. I extend my right hand, you extend your right hand, we clasp them together, and done. Greeting complete. It’s short, it’s firm, and it never deviates.
In the German community this traditional greeting is acceptable between strangers, acquaintances, friends, distant relatives, close relatives, and even handless people (a stump shake is perfectly normal.)
Outside the German community, there are all sorts of different handshakes going around that I can’t fathom. If your handshake involves chest tapping, finger snapping, or fist thumping, I don’t get it.
When I see a hand being extended in a non-traditional way, I panic. “Is this going to involve a snap, a tap, or a thump? Why isn’t this person extending his hand in a normal way? Countdown to humiliation…5, 4, 3, 2, 1.”
But that’s just one of the things that makes me panic at greeting time. Another greeting sure to bring out my discomfort is the hug. I’ve gotten past hugging family members. I hug my kids a thousand times a day. I hug my sisters-in-law and their kids without feeling weird. And now after many years of practice, I can even hug my long-time female friends. But I still don’t hug my mother, my sister or my brother…and I’m guessing, as fellow Germans, they appreciate that.
If you don't know me well and come to hug me, don’t look in my eyes. You may misinterpret the sheer horror in my eyes as dislike. It’s not that I don’t like you…it’s just that there is a better way of doing this that doesn’t involve quite so much uncomfortable body touching.*
This is the proper greeting at all times: You extend a hand, I extend a hand, we clasp our hands together firmly, and release.
And dear God, by all means, never kiss me. If I see your lips heading toward my face, my whole world starts moving in slow motion, and this is what is going through my mind.
“Oh no, here it comes. What is she (or God forbid—he) thinking? How did my unfriendly body language fail to head this off? If I extend my hand now, it’s rude. If I extend my cheek now, it’s lame. If I kiss back, it’s…well, that’s not going to happen. There is nothing I can do to stop it. Better brace yourself, weirdo. Here it is. Find the strength for the fake smile…dear God its in there somewhere…dig, dig, dig. Bring out the fake smile before it’s too late.”
Is there any chance the traditional handshake will come back in style?
I don’t have the proper training to deal with anything else.
*I'd love to hear how they translate the HBO show Entourage in German. One thing you will never hear a German say: "Let's hug it out, bitch."