‘Or some contrivance awkwardly suitable for the unpleasantly awkward occasion’
by Andrew Taggart
Sometimes it goes: once lips to cheek. Sometimes it goes: twice, back and forth, slowly or swiftly. Occasionally, it goes three times. The pressure is also important. So is the touch. Firm or light. Moist or dry. Cheek or air or half-both. As intimacy grows, the lips may get closer or the kisses, on cheeks, a touch or more than a touch firmer yet softer.
I have left out the hugs which can come before, after, not at all, or as a substitute for the one, two, or three kisses. The hugs being light, firm, distant, close, restrained, or not so in nature.
Unless, of course, one nixes the kisses on lips or cheek or cheeks, the hugs together with or separate from or as a substitute for the kisses on lips or cheek or cheeks altogether and goes instead with the handshake (being firm, light, or goopy) or the handshake concomitant with a hug or the handshake followed by the hug and so forth.
Contingencies should also be factored in, those being where the greetings and farewells are taking place in locales such as: on front door steps, in the pouring rain, under a sagging awning, during rush hour, in the midst of a crowded subway car, on a go cart at the local fair, within a dimly lit bathroom, near the stable yard, beside a moving van or a traffic stop. Then one might feel inclined to opt, as is one’s wont, for the wave (choices here innumerable) or the sympathetic head turn (one of my favorites, actually) or some contrivance awkwardly suitable for the unpleasantly awkward occasion. I have not yet mentioned the time, the location, the angle of the sun or moon, the time of the day, the turn of the seasons, the nature of the celebration or its contrary, the number of sheets tussled about on the floor in close proximity to the vacant stairwell. Nor have I taken account of the nationality, gender, culture, customs, local colors (whatever these be), species and genera, linguistic barriers, and diplomatic interests of all the parties present.
In a word, it seems we are in an incredible muddle about greetings, farewells, and all that. It seems our unnative skin and our deracinated mores are to be blamed. One hopes, doubtless without warrant but one can dare to hope, that the saving grace will be whatever occurs after the hello and before the good-bye.
Educational Note 1
There seem to be two stories that one could read out of the history of manners. One is that manners, however conventional, are the actualization of (at least some) morals. When I open the door for you, I am showing deference toward you. The other is that manners run contrary to morals. On this view, they uphold the status quo and stuffy social distinctions and are meant to exclude and remove those from the wrong backgrounds. My general sense is that when morals and manners are in harmony, it reminds us that the world is in harmony. We are drawn together in this fashion, drawn together in grace and gratitude. However, when morals and manners are discordant, it shows us how far apart we have come, how severed we are, how great the distance is between us.
Educational Note 2
In a settled way of life, you would begin to see, over time, the “codification” of certain gestures in the form of abiding manners. An outstretched hand, say, would be both a sign that there is no enmity between us (no weapon in the open hand) and a sign that there is only amity resounding (an open hand is meant to be held and clasped). This “codification” would also put an end to the very thought of the “burden of choosing.” (On the paradox of choice, see Barry Schwartz’s TED Talk.) The thought that we are free to choose however we would like to greet each other and, hence, that we can be mired, endlessly, in a sea of doubt would simply never arise.