Tales of frustration: Huggers

“Oh, I’m a hugger,” she says in her cutesy, affected voice, spreading her arms and tilting her head, while closing the gap created by our personal space.

I raise my outstretched right hand, palm out, and have just enough time to bring up my left hand up as well, halting her advance with a firm block to her shoulders. Shock and affront paint her face, followed by a display of more hurt than could actually have been physically suffered by my denial.

“What the hell, man?”

“I’m sorry, but we’ve only just met and I’m not much of a hugger.”

“Well, you didn’t have to be such a dick about it. I’m just being friendly, you jerk.”

She steps back, setting her stance to convey disapproval.

“Once again, I apologize for your shock, but I don’t much enjoy hugging someone I’ve only just met.”

“Whatever, I’m just trying to be nice and you push me. What are you, some kind of germophobe?”

“No, I just think that hugging is a bit intimate for a first encounter.”

“Yeah right, so you’re, like, autistic or something? You know, you can’t just treat people like that.”

A disdainful sneer disfigured her face and with it, my composure.

“You don’t really know what autism entails, do you? But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m not a hugger and I don’t like hugging someone whose name I’ve only just heard seconds earlier. I don’t appreciate you forcing your habits on me, just because you are a hugger.”

“Look, asshole, I was being nice and you’re being a piece of shit, shoving me back, when all I wanted to do was give you a hug. I mean, seriously, what kind of social reject doesn’t like hugs? And you implying I don’t know what autism is, is totally offensive. I have a nephew with autism and you know nothing about what he has to go through every day.”

“Besides your demonstration that you need to go have a good chat with your nephew’s doctor, you’re failing to understand what is ‘nice’ here. You intended to be nice by doing something I don’t like. You were disregarding me entirely. You think it’s nice to hug upon meeting someone, I do not. I had my hand out to shake yours and you chose to step forward and wrap yourself around me without my consent. If I had the time, I would have told you not to hug me beforehand, but I didn’t. I acted on impulse and stopped you; I did not shove. –“

“Oh, whatever! I –“

“No, no. You have shown you can’t be trusted with words, so you will shut up and let me finish. You tried to engage in physical contact of which I do not approve. And I can see by the look on your face that you still disagree, so let’s consider this: you like to hug. You think it’s nice to be hugged, thus you think it is nice to hug. You know people you like to hug and all think it’s nice, so you label yourself ‘hugger’ and try to bring everyone into your warm embrace. I like to fondle and kiss. I think it’s nice to be fondled and kissed. I know people who like to fondle and kiss and all think it’s nice. Should I then introduce myself saying “Oh, I’m a fondling kisser” and proceed to massage your breasts and lightly bite your lower lip?”

“What the fuck, dude, are you fucking seri-“

“That’s right, the answer is no. I don’t know whether you would enjoy intimate physical contact right off the bat. Maybe you do, but I don’t know. So I keep it safe and extend my hand for a friendly shaking. Do I reach out and grab your hand? No. I wait, hoping you will extend your hand, so our hands can meet in the mutually agreed upon middle. You decide whether you reach out or not, I do not make that decision for you. You need to think about more than what you think is nice when meeting someone.”

A perfect picture of disgust looks me up and down from behind a crossed-arms barrier.

“You can just fuck off, because I’ve got pepperspray and I’m not afraid to use it. You’re not going to touch my breasts no matter how much you want to and I’ve got half a mind to press charges for sexual harassment.”

“Fine. Well you and your half a mind can go hug themselves. Just quit hugging people that don’t want to be hugged.”

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Ice-cream: the least offensive food

Ice-cream seems to be the least offensive food to eat while having a conversation. And I’m not talking about the overly sexualized way of eating ice-cream as is often advertised. Anything can be made offensive like that. I’m just talking about the innocent, everyday, ‘I have to eat it before it melts’ way of eating ice-cream. And I think that last point is crucial in making it innocent and forgivable.

Let’s say you just went out on a hot day to get an ice-cream. Any kind: chocolate covered cholesterol cream on a stick, frozen version of your favourite chocolate candy bar, fresh sorbet in a cup, or (my choice) a crispy cone with a couple scoops of flavours that took you the better half of an afternoon to choose. So now you have your ice-cream and as you set out in the hot sun to enjoy a leisurely walk, after having an inner debate whether you should or should not have chosen that other one (grapefruit in stead of pistachio?), you run into someone you know. Or even someone who might just need directions. Or someone that you must talk to or forever regret not talking to. In any case, you now find yourself in a conversation.

You’re in a conversation. Important or otherwise, you’re in a conversation and you’re eating. Unless you went out to get food with your conversation partner, this situation would put you in position to transgress a conversational rule: don’t eat while speaking with someone. But you must eat. A sandwich can wait. Something hot might cool and thus provide you with reason to ask forgiveness for eating, but even if this is given you feel awkward and wrong. You’re caught between waiting to finish each bite before replying, while your conversation partner alternates between staring away and staring at you, and replying quickly, while you’re still chewing and thus giving your conversation partner a visual presentation of this process as well as wafts of aroma laced with particles of differing sizes. And as hungry as your conversation partner might be, it’s hard to imagine them to be thankful for the tiny chunk of cheesy onion you just launched at their face.

But ice-cream melts. Forgiveness is a given. It will only become a bigger, more embarrassing problem for all if you’re forced to refrain from eating it. So you proceed with the conversation and reply easily and without delay or any unwanted sharing of food. Difficulties or mishaps while eating ice-cream are more often seen as funny or cute, rather than awkward and unmannered, and otherwise you simply speak between licks. And that is the second crucial point of ice-cream inoffensiveness: you lick ice-cream. Or at the very least take small, quickly processed bites.

A lick or tiny bite of ice-cream only takes up an amount of time equal to the time needed to give meaningful non-verbal responses, like ‘hmm’ and ‘mm’ or ‘mhmm’. The conversation carries on without a hitch. There are exceptions, however, such as the proficiency demanding ice-cream waffle sandwich: no chance of eating this in an easy or elegant way. You’ll spend more time fighting to actually get the ice-cream in your mouth than upholding your part of the conversation. But the ice-cream waffle sandwich elicits a strange phenomenon. As your conversation partner is forced to watch you struggle with your treat, they curiously begin to recount times when they had a difficult ice-cream to deal with. Before you know it they’ve got you laughing as they tell you about that time they actually managed to get ice-cream on their forehead and you add to the hilarity as the battle with your food only gets more demanding. And thus, the innocence and inoffensiveness of ice-cream is maintained.

– SeanK