At the back of the hill

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013


On the bus the other day an African American touched the shoulder of an elderly Cantonese gentleman to alert him to a vacant seat. It was meant innocuously enough, but he could not know that the old man was phobic. After being told loudly, repetitively, and stridently "no touch, okay, you no touch, no touch me, you stay away, you not touch", he shrugged, then muttered "have a nice day" under his breath, and sat in the seat which he had wished to let the other fellow have.
I could sympathize; bit of a quandary on either side.

Touch is, in many ways, the first recourse when speech fails.

We've all felt like giving people who are deeply sad a big hug. In most cases that would be ill-advised. That we may know them does not mean we may touch them. People are to differing depths protective of their personal space, and if there are age, status, and gender issues, that reassuring hug could be your ticket to a minefield.

We like touching others, we want to be touched; and every one of us demands the deciding voice over the when, where, and how of it.
Unless you indicate that it's acceptable, I shall not presume.

On the other hand, the welcoming or parting hug is no major problem for many people, who do this automatically without even considering that it may be a wee bit too close for the other person, especially if he or she comes from a social background that does not act thus. Such behaviour is NOT as standard as many people believe. Do not take for granted that similarities in some areas automatically translate into commonality in all others. Someone else might show physical affection only to their parents or their offspring.

Some people become horribly uncomfortable at the prospect, especially when they realize what is going to happen.


A very similar dynamic often takes place in public. "Why hello, I haven't seen you in such a long time!" Followed by a warm enthusiastic embrace in broad daylight entirely out in the open before complete strangers.
That right there gives many shy people the heebie-jeebies.
It seems so unreserved, so exhibitionist!
Do I really have to?

"There are several reasons for returning raccoons to the wild, though this will be difficult if not done correctly.
Animals which are accustomed to being handled are unlikely to survive on their own... "

I like touch. But mostly as an intellectual concept. Very close friends, fine. Especially if they are my age, and we haven't seen each other in a while. Anyone else is iffy. Unless it's much more private, OR there are tons of familiar witnesses. It's a question of suitable social frameworks.
Casual physical contact on the street is a little queer.
And public displays of affection are right out.
No smooching in front of an audience.
Discreet handholding is fine.
In a suitable context.
Movie theatres.

Or if we're both in front of a firing squad.
Yeah, then it's perfectly okay.

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  • At 1:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hug your children often, tell them how much you love them and they will be the better for it. The little ones eat it up, however I've noticed my teenager simply endures my hugs and professions of love. I'm sure had it not been for religious instruction and the fact that I am his father he would have told me to bugger off long ago. A bit of humor in all this is the teenager is also of african decent (I'm Jewish) and is very tall, much taller than myself. In fact he is the starting center for the high school basket ball team tall. So a bit of a roll reversal no?



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