I don’t think anyone was to blame. The terms of engagement had not been made clear. But then, they never are.

The occasion was the aftermath of a gig. A woman approached me to say hello. She was a sister of a good friend of mine. It had been a while since I’d seen her and I couldn’t remember one vital detail. Were we ‘shake hands’ people or ‘cheek kiss’ people? She got closer. It was do or Hi time. I panicked. I extended a hand for a handshake, changed my mind at the last minute, decided to kiss. By this time she’d already moved her head and I ended up administering a perfectly chaste peck on the tip of her nose.

I hadn’t even gone in for the kiss willingly. Most kiss-greetings are a load of nonsense anyway. Especially the double kisses . ESPECIALLY if during or after the double kiss, one party says “Oh we’re gone all ‘continental’ now, hahah”. Well you know what? If you’re that self-aware about the inconsequentiality of it all, don’t do it. But we put ourselves in these touchy situations because of ‘Greetings inflation’,

When were emotionally repressed as a people it was much easier. You went around cold, wet and hunched over. Now we’re supposed to be Southern Europeans,  talking with our hands, kissing on both cheeks, eating meals with no sign of a spud at all. The double kiss is the pinot grigio of greetings.

In these times of quantitative easing, the quality of greeting bonds has been devalued. The hug has fallen victim to this. Everyone’s hugging now. There’s nothing wrong with a hug, but faux-‘bro’ hugs are devaluing the clinch. A hug should be mean something, like if you’ve just scored a goal, done a duet with Bruce Springsteen on your birthday, or been freed by Somali pirates.

A proper hug should last 6 seconds in order to release endorphins. The vague shoulder bump achieves nothing other than making you look as if you’re just trying to get around someone on the aisle of the Cork-Dublin train. And this type of hug is often preceded by a ‘Cool Handshake’.

Whatever your views on the role of the Catholic Church in the formation of Irish society, one can’t deny that it did teach generations how to shake hands. The sign of peace – often an excruciating ordeal for neighbours touching neighbours – was the break for a bit of craic for distracted small children. Adults looked away and proferred their hands limply, but siblings giggled as they handshook extravagantly for a minute.

Without that education, the handshake has changed from “Peace be with you” to “Peace out”. A vertical handclasp that looks an invitation to arm-wrestle. Sometimes, even I hold out my hand for the conventional one, some latchico will twist it up into the silly one. Why? We’re not touring with the ‘Stones’. I’m from Dripsey and you work in insurance.

At this stage I’d rather we kissed.

This article was first published in the Irish Examiner on July 22nd, 2013

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