Still a Stranger Here

I like being Canadian.

Aside from the embarrassment of Rob Ford and the ongoing empire of Stephen Harper, we have a lovely reputation: polite, friendly, the cleaner/nicer/more left-wing version of Americans.

I also love living in London; the theatre and museums, while not absolutely peerless, are exceptional (and have quite spoiled me for living anywhere that isn’t as culturally rich).

And while being an expatriate comes with pros (two passports!) and cons (like people correcting my diction and pronunciation. I know what I said. You know what I said. I know both what you people call it and how you pronounce it and have decided to stick with my own vernacular in this case. So stop being pedantic), there is something particular to the UK (and Europe) that I don’t think I will ever master.

“Hello.”

In Canada and the US, you have: the wave,

giphy

the chin acknowledgement (think ‘s’up’),

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the handshake,

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the fist bump,

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and the hug,

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for varying degrees of physical and emotional proximity.

In the UK and Europe, though – y’all do the cheek kiss (for an indeterminate length and number of times), with either a handclasp or some kind of hand-on-arm job.

Even Hilary Clinton thinks this shit is weird.

I do not know what to do with that.

This STILL feels unnecessarily intimate and weird to me.

If you do that in North America? You’re either a theatre-person greeting other theatre-people, or you’re basically hitting on someone REALLY HARD.

I can’t you the number of times I’ve automatically gone for a hug since some person is suddenly in my personal space and they’ve gotten a mouthful of hair or head butted.

And I still can’t tell if you guys are actually doing a kiss or just going ‘mwa’ in the space next to my head.

I tend to do the latter, after I’ve done a weird pseudo-hug that’s the equivalent of a limp-fish handshake (which I loathe) because ARGH I can’t KISS you, that is for intimates.

I get it, I think – it looks classy, it’s less business-y than a handshake, it’s affectionate and I’d bet most Londoners are affection-deprived on average.

But…

It’s not intuitive for me. It doesn’t come naturally, and I still haven’t figured out exactly where the cheek-kiss thing falls in terms of social proximity. Do you do this with literally everyone you meet? Work colleagues? Bosses? Friends of friends?Grandparents?

Where is the line? Have I unwittingly offended people by pre-empting them with a firm all-American handshake or put them on the back foot by an unanticipated warm and fuzzy Canadian hug?

It’s odd. I speak the language. My parents are Brits, but picturing them doing the cheek-kiss thing is impossible – is this a new thing? They left the nearly 40 years ago – is this a European import? WHAT IS THE DEAL?

Seriously. Please. Someone teach me.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it, though. I do it, because social niceties and whatnot, but it always feels like a put-on.

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