Published: 5 years ago

Embracing Awkwardness

Alright, blogosphere, we have a serious matter to discuss. Grab some coffee. Clear your minds. Focus on the topic at hand:

Hugging a complete stranger.

A bit of background: Merriem and I are new to suburban life. For the last eight years we lived in the country, where sunlight was piped in and neighbors only came calling if our dog ate their chickens (true story). We each grew up in tiny towns where everybody knew everybody, or at least knew who you belonged to.

But since June, we’ve been living la vida suburbia, in a neighborhood complete with sidewalks, storm drains, and a homeowner’s association. It’s like The Truman Show meets Leave It To Beaver meets The Neighbors, a new show so incredibly awful I can’t believe it wasn’t cancelled by the first commercial break.

We’ve been trying to meet as many neighbors as possible, a difficult feat when the average temperature this summer was Surface Of The Sun. But one neighbor I met fairly early on was a delightful lady in her 70’s whom I’ll call Louanne, because that is her name and I’m fairly certain that reading this blog is not on her list of 1,001 things to do before she dies.

In the first meeting with Louanne, I was out for a walk with Haven and she was walking her dog, whom I’ll call Toby even though that’s not his real name, but really: why should I remember a dog’s name? It’s a dog. We exchanged names and pleasantries and went on our way.

Meeting number two: I was working in the yard when Louanne stopped on the sidewalk while she was walking Toby. Picture it: I was standing about three feet away from her, and she said, “Welcome to the neighborhood!” and spread out her arms. My friends, she spread out her arms.

Where I come from, spread out her arms is code for “move in for a hug.” So I did. Quite slowly and awkwardly. And my hunch was right, because my sweet little 70ish neighbor embraced me.

And then kissed me on the cheek.

(Let me interrupt my own story: I come from a section of the country where you do not casually kiss other people. You say things like “Bless your heart” and “Hot enough for ya?” but you do not kiss someone that you didn’t buy a sizable piece of jewelry for or share the same last name with. So the concept of a casual kiss – even just on the cheek – is still very strange to me, and I considered putting a For Sale sign up in our yard that very day so as not to ever have to go through that again.)

I digress.

Meeting number three happened on Saturday night. We had a neighborhood picnic, and I was fully prepared to throw Merriem in the path of Louanne’s lips, because that’s what husbands do.

Meeting number four happened last night. Again, I was walking, and again, she had Toby on the leash (apparently he has bladder issues). As I approached, I was racing through my options: pretend I’m looking at my phone? Fake a sneezing fit? Tell her that I have a rash that’s exacerbated by close contact with hugging strangers?

As I got within two feet of her, she threw out her right arm. Not both, just one.

So, reluctantly, cautiously, I moved in for a hug. To my 70ish sweet little neighbor. Who is at least 18 inches shorter than me. And her nose was in my chest.

And at that precise moment it was 100% apparent that the thrown out right arm was, in fact, just a thrown out right arm. Perhaps a muscle spasm, but not a posture of hugging. And Louanne and I proceeded to have what was the most awkward 1.4 seconds of both of our lives. Even Toby was embarrassed.

So I ask you, readers: what is the code? To hug or not to hug? Can I leave my house again? Will Toby ever learn to use the toilet?

When is it okay to hug a stranger? Comment below.

7 Comments.
  1. When in Rome…? And according to the culture. My Iranian relatives always do a kiss on each cheek. If not wildly inappropriate or open to misinterpretation, get the benefit of that lovely oxytocin uplift: http://www.internetevangelismday.com/blog/archives/9553

  2. Anonymous says:

    This gave me a good chuckle this morning! It also reminded me of how normal and expected hugging is in a Hispanic culture like Ecuador. I set records weekly for being hugged by ladies of all ages while we were there. The only difference is, they sort of “kiss the air” beside your head. It is one of those things I miss about Ecuador. Mostly because it demonstrated how important relationships ( the good kind) are in that culture.

  3. Mom says:

    I don’t know who “Anonymous” is who wrote the comment above, but that was exactly where my mind headed — to Ecuador. Lots of embraces and not one but TWO kisses from total strangers, one on each side of the face. Anonymous is right. The kisses don’t normally land on your cheek but become puffs of air whizzing by your ear. You, Danny, are a prime example of the “I’ve got to have my personal space” mentality — typical North American that you are. In Latin America, that mentality doesn’t exist. The closer the better. Try standing in line or riding the trolley in that setting.
    Yes — hug.
    Yes — leave your house, armed and aware.
    No — Toby’s toilet abilities will not improve.
    Yes — it’s okay to hug a stranger if it’s “the Little Old Lady from Pasadena” or someone from the same generation in the US OR anywhere in Central or South America.

  4. Amy Hill says:

    When in Rome…..hug!

  5. 5522goldenmoss says:

    Drench your shirt with water to make it look like you’re very sweaty….even if its 15 degrees outside. Nobody wants to hug somebody who is extremely sweaty.

    That…or make sure one of your boys is in between you and this neighbor.

  6. falynsmiles1 says:

    Wow I sure am glad I got my hug Sunday morning!! … but you know I am a hugger from way back and I must say that it is totaly biblical as I have pointed out to an anonymous non hugging-kissing church member from another church of course….. it is okay to greet one another with a hug or even a holy kiss…ohhhh but I do love the kiss in the air….

    2 Corinthians 13:12
    Greet one another with a holy kiss

    So consider yourself greeted…. And I have no makeup left on my face from laughing so hard.. please publish this Book of Frankness so that I can share with all my friends…..
    Oh And it is toally okay to hug your stranger, it may be the only hug or kiss that she has given or gotten all day..(or week)

  7. Debbie Franks Gowan says:

    Oh my dear sweet little brother…were you not the very one who hugged & kissed everything & everybody when you were a kid? Oh my goodness boy! I know I taught you better! Hug the woman Danny…just hug the woman!! Geez!

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