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I'd like to comment on this whole phenomenon
Of people grabbing me, wrapping me up inside their arm
Not meant to do me harm, but meant to say hello
Why can't they grab my hand, shake it once and let me go?
These would be the opening lines to my hit single "Bring Back the Handshake" ... if I were a rapper in a position to create hit singles. Since I am not a rapper, they are the opening lines to this column with the same message: Bring back the handshake.
When it comes to greeting people, the options are hug or handshake. There are a few exceptions—like with fraternities ... or gangs—but for the most part, one of the two will do. If there is a certain amount of love between us, then give me a hug. I'm OK with that. If there isn't enough love to warrant a hug, then just shake my hand. That's cool too. Both gestures tell me the same thing: "It's good to see you, friend."
Not everyone thinks this way. There are those who partake in myriad greetings that exist in that gray area between hug and handshake.
There's the fist pound, which I rarely ever see coming, causing me to be the guy with the open hand looking like I just threw paper against an opponent's rock.
There's the hand-grab that then rotates into another position, which confuses me because I never know if there is a third position, so I release early only to discover there is a third position and now I'm the jerk who let go early.
There's the raised cup hand, which automatically means I'm going to be pulled into a half-chest, half-shoulder bump. This I dread because I'm never sure which way my head should turn and—being of average height—I have face-planted into necks, chests, shoulder blades and plenty of stinky cologne. A few times, I've been pulled into the embrace only to meet with a raised forearm. Apparently this person likes me enough to initiate an embrace but not enough to let me get too close. Unbeknownst to them, I would have been OK with a handshake.
I even have a friend who likes to wrap his left arm around me and palm the back of my head. I rarely look forward to seeing him.
The worst might be when the other person insists on the one-arm bear hug despite the fact that there is a table or barricade between us. Now the greeting includes embracing furniture. It's all a little too much. Why can't we just shake hands?
I understand the power of touch and its many uses in communication. I know the people engaging in these gray-area, nonverbal greetings are only trying to express their affection, and I appreciate it. However, I don't know what's going on half the time and it confuses the heck out me. Saying "hi" should not be confusing. I don't want to memorize a huge number of greetings and be all cerebral every time I see someone I know coming my way.
Friends, let's abandon the gray area and just shake hands. If the handshake is good enough for closing business deals and meeting fathers, it should be good enough for saying hello.
If you're really feeling the love, then give me hug. At least that way when I see two open arms coming my way, I know what I'm in for.
Yusef Williams is a RedEye special contributor.
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