Are you a hugger or a hand shaker?

March 23, 2019


This story appeared in my book, "Exploding Hushpuppies."

I’m a hugger — but a hugger who would really and truly rather shake your hand. I hug some people freely, with joy and enthusiasm, but feel it’s a status to be earned, not expected. When I see hug-worthy friends, I’ll gladly throw myself into their arms, while others warrant a warm smile, friendly handshake, or in some situations the lethal Southern lady weapon of a cold stare. 

If you’ve been around teenaged girls lately, you know it’s like a barrel of otters with all the squirming and hugging going on. While chaperoning a group of teens I noticed the girls hugged each other every few minutes. “Huggsies!” one girl screamed as she launched herself into the middle of a group. Do their parents think this ear-piercing squealing and over- hugging behavior is cute? And once again, I say, “thank you God for giving me boys.” 

Southerners will say, “let me hug your neck” or “give me some sugar” which is usually directed at kin-folk. I think it’s the newcomers who are introducing the “hug everyone in the world” concept. My New Jersey husband says everyone up there not only hugs but kisses each other whether they’re close or not. 

My mom’s Irish family hugged, but not excessively. My Dad’s British family excelled at the hand shake. Mother said the first time she met Dad’s family when she went home with him in college, Daddy and his Dad ran towards each other and enthusiastically shook hands. She liked-to-have-died. By the time I was born, she had converted them to huggers but with my DNA test reporting I’m 74% British, 14% Scottish, Irish and Wales, I’m doomed to a lifetime of sunscreen and handshaking. 

Jake Owen needs me to hug him. Bless his Seminole heart.

The list of people I like to hug includes but is not limited to: those who smell really good, puppies, good altos, clean children, people who have been missing for over 8 months, anyone who ever helped me with algebra, everyone on Easter, and anyone who is wearing an FSU shirt. Bless their hearts, the Seminoles need extra hugs this year. 

I loved watching Downton Abbey when the British characters would shake hands. Even with great excitement, there was no hugging, fist bumping, slapping or tousling hair. Just a big smile and a hearty, “well done, old chap!” 

My husband’s Italian family wants to hug and kiss you, then repeat it all over again two minutes later. Even if they’re yelling at you, they want to hug, which is very scary for anyone from South Alabama.  His grandmother nearly smothered me once when I went to the kitchen to get her a napkin, which was hard to do, because she had tiny spaghetti-like arms.  

I recently met a man for the first time who reached out and pulled me in for a full-frontal hug which I found to be quite awkward. I mean, I didn’t even know the guy and he got the full tour. Of course, when I pulled away, he was equally rude to mention it — “What? You don’t like me?” Which of course is a hugger’s way of labeling you as a psychopath. I didn’t think anything bad about him, but secretly loathed his mother for raising such a man. She was probably a teenaged squealing hugger in her youth. 

  • Well, I am glad that I am a good alto so if we ever meet in real life you will hug me because you will never, ever see this life long Gator fan in an FSU t-shirt!

    Here in Houston we Baptists are big huggers. And I am generally a hugger, however, I cringe during flu season at the “greeting” time at church! I agree with your husband that it’s germ time! My kids once said we needed to invent a product called “friendship tongs” that we could hold during that time. Everyone would extend their friendship tongs to tap other’s tongs instead of handshakes and hugs. Our worship pastor once encouraged the congregation to just fist bump during a particularly bad flu outbreak!

    • I’m just glad to know gators go to church. Bless your heart.

      But really . . . our church wipes down with hand sanitizer before they pass out communion. – hugs to you!

    • Yesterday at church, I gave a combo-sideways/handshake to a male friend while holding on to my pocketbook and bulletin. It would have scored a perfect “10” on the A.S. = appropriate scale.

  • Karyn Tunks says:

    I appreciate your honesty about how you rate yourself as a hugger. I would classify you as a “reserved” hugger. I completely agree that Jake Owen does need a hug. As does Tim Tebow.

    Regarding “pass the peace,” Jeff refers to this church tradition as “gripping and grinning.” I mentioned my husband’s affectionate term at a ladies’ Bible study to which one person replied, “Oh please don’t tell pastor that! He will start using that expression every Sunday.”

    • Love that Jeff. I never have reserved hugs with you. It’s just that you are so delicate and fragile, I don’t want to knock you over. You know Jake Owen is supposed to be working on the movie here in Fairhope. Maybe we should give him an FSU welcome party.

  • It would be nice if there was a clear signal as to what the other person is going to do and be able to sidestep a hug that’s not wanted. A hand stuck out quickly is usually enough. Flu season etiquette has made everyone wonder what to do. Remember when there used to be formal handshaking time in church? Does that still happen where you are?

    • Some churches have a greeting time, others have the “pass the peace” kissing time. My husband calls it “germ time.”

  • Karen Roloson says:

    I was a young bride from a stoic Lutheran family when I attended a gathering of my new husband’s family. My brother-in-law gave me a big hug and announced to all that “it was like hugging a stick!” I’m sorry but we did not hug anyone older than 6 years old in my family and they had to be immediate family members (niece, nephew…no cousins). We shook hands. My favorite aunt would come clear across the country to see us and she would shake hands. If, in a poorly planned emotional moment, you grabbed on to someone, there was total silence in the room. My mother would apologize gently and explain that I had married out of the tribe. I hug now but must admit that I am uncomfortable doing so. I know that my grandpa Hedin is frowning down at such exuberance. He was a good Lutheran.

    • That’s pretty funny, but I totally get it. It’s one of those family things that goes unspoken yet everyone knows to follow. I have aunts that try to shake my husband’s hand after knowing for 25 years now he’s still going to grab them and squeeze the daylights out of them.

  • I am definitely a hugger. Sometimes my Clemson kids would come by my office and say “I just need a hug today”, and I was happy to oblige. Hugging my warm little dachshund Rosie is pretty much heaven on earth. But those creepy huggers like the one that got you…ick.

    • Yes, there’s a protocol that men should follow – side hug = good. Dogs are completely huggable. My friend in church this morning told me she tried to sing the alto part so I would consider her huggable. HA! (she already was).

  • ha ha, I love sincere hugs, but some hugs can be awkward… I had to learn to be a hugger 🙂

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