Meetings and greetings

2008-07-29 00:00

There I was, swept up in the passionate Gucci-scented embrace of a swarthy Italian stud.

It could have been a scene from The Godfather, except instead of succumbing to a weak-kneed swoon, I was more concerned about my weak neck and whether I’d need an ap-pointment with the chiropractor. That, and the fact he was my friend’s fiancé and not a gun-slinging Mafia stooge.

It’s not that I’m adverse to warm welcomes (especially from dishy foreign men), but by the time I was being hoicked over his left shoulder, as he planted a kiss on each cheek, I was one smooch away from serious whiplash.

I’ve since decided that the safest bet with meetings and greetings is to get in first with a swift snatch-and-jerk handshake, thereby limiting the chances of confusion, embarrassment or grievous bodily harm.

Depending on your persuasion the smooch-and-squeeze routine either leaves you feeling awash with pleasure or like dashing to the bathroom for a wash. But while there’s nothing more alarming than a stranger bearing down with lips puckered, all poised to deliver a smacking kiss, there’s no uncertainty as to the intent.

On the other (more awkward) hand, rendering a robotic performance of the Hokey Cokey is embarrassing as well as bewildering. And that’s before you even get to shake it all about.

Personally, engaging in the arms struggle with someone I’ve just clapped eyes on isn’t my style — with the odd exception, naturally. I mean, I’d hardly tell Brad Pitt to back off if he was keen for a hug ‘o war.

That said, with friends and folk you know, there are definitely occasions when more than a casual “howzit” should not be construed as an excuse for a quick grope of your best friend’s partner.

But some folk are offended no matter what you do.

I bumped into a girlfriend in a supermarket queue recently and remembering she’d had a rough time of late, I thought a little hug and kiss was called for.

Her six-year-old son, clearly affronted by such an inappropriate display of soppiness, screwed up his face in disgust and hollered, “Hey, it’s not a wedding.”

He would perhaps have preferred his mum and I to rub our noses together like Eskimos. As a child I was tickled pink with the idea and rushed off eager to try it out on the first person I came across.

Not surprisingly, few were very keen to dab noses with a snot-glazed five-year-old child and I was forced to experiment on the family dog, who, as I recall, had no such reservations.

But not all encounters are that predictable, or pleasant.

I must confess that the traditional Zulu handshake with all that flapping about has me totally befuddled. Fortunately, I’ve found a solution to the dilemma by offering a limp, dead-fish hand and allowing it to be contorted at will.

I reckon the younger generation have the right idea with their high-five, palm-slapping routine, although admittedly it’s not ideal for everyone.

It wouldn’t do for the Pope to look like he was doing the haka and I doubt it would be very popular with those of royal personage either.

Some of my girlfriends have adopted the Hollywood movie- star style of greeting by pecking at the air on the side of one’s face. While I concede this is preferable to being daubed in scarlet lipstick, it’s still not for me.

My lips, scarlet or otherwise, are reserved for my husband and close family. And my dog.

• Heidi Steyn is a freelance writer who lives in Pietermaritzburg.

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