From hugs and shakes to nods and high-fives, ShortList’s Ralph Jones guides you through the messy social etiquette of saying hello to another man
This is a tale of male social awkwardness. Read on at your peril.
I was having a drink with a friend recently; a friend I hadn’t seen in over a year. To me, it was obvious: the situation warranted a hug. It’s been 13 months, let’s hug.
But when he arrived and I rose to greet him, something horrible happened. In my friend’s eyes, this was a handshake situation. So there I stood, in the pub, arms spread wide like a mad aunt, smile rapidly giving way to unease. He, meanwhile, was proffering his hand like we were due to hammer out the logistics of the China deal. In the end it was he who gave in, permitting me a strange, reluctant cuddle. But the experience got me thinking about the MGC – the Male Greeting Conundrum. Men don’t need information on Brexit, they need answers to questions such as ‘Can I fist-bump my boss?’ and ‘If I high-five people, will they assume I am a serial killer?’
Here is a handy guide to the bumpy ride.
Right, you can’t go that wrong with a handshake. It takes a professional idiot to screw this up. If in doubt, shake the hand: a tradition originally meant to communicate to your fellow man, “BEHOLD, SIR, I HOLD NO SWORD.” If your chief aim is to refute any claims that you were planning to remove someone’s liver with a blade, look no further.
Some basic shake rules, though: 1) Start early. Do not, I repeat, do not, present the hand only at the last minute like a crap surprise. If you do, you might have to rapidly segue from handshake to hug at the eleventh hour, a massive faux-pas in the MGC and a manoeuvre that no one has ever pulled off without looking like a terrific prick. 2) Everyone remembers a limp shake. Don’t just hold the hand; grip it and shake it up and down like you’re masturbating to a deadline.
By far the most difficult of the greetings, this. It’s no stretch to describe it as fraught. It’s fraught. Although your trousers falling down in a shopping centre probably tops the Premier League of Awkward Human Experience, trying to hug someone who doesn’t want a hug definitely qualifies for Champions League football next season.
The key, like the handshake, is to show your intentions early. As soon as you see someone – perhaps they are across the road – open your arms. This way, the person has time to prepare – or to hide behind a bus and run alongside it for several miles.
The HHH (handshake-hug-hybrid)
In truth, the HHH begins not with a conventional handshake but a claw-like grip. Grab your partner’s claw with your claw, and pull their body into you with your free hand. The film Creed is basically 133 minutes of handshake-hug-hybrids, with pauses where people remember they need to box.
Needless to say, this one is for the young. Sylvester Stallone is the only 70-year-old who can pull off an HHH. If you are a 70-year-old man reading this, move on to the next headline. There is nothing for you here.
Never attempt an HHH with someone smaller or larger than yourself, unless your intentions are comedic.
The two-handed handshake
Though this sounds like a euphemism, it is simply a Penthouse Handshake, with the second hand slapping the other person’s hand in a comforting way, as though someone recently died.
A warning: never try this with someone who Penthouse Handshakes you. You are left with four hands joined together: an unsettling mass of flesh. If you are about to be two-handed, withdraw your left hand as though it is on fire.
Only for actual morons, this one. Only high-five someone if you are a moron or are going to a fancy dress party as a moron. There are far, far too many things that can go wrong. A high-five has so many variables it’s not even worth thinking about. It’s a handshake on crack and should be left to film stars and circus performers.
The fist bump
Remember ‘Safe’? ‘Safe’ was good. You knew where you were with Safe. You were safe with Safe. For the uninitiated: ‘Safe’ was a playground greeting that consisted only of the soft bumping of one cool dude’s fist against another cool dude’s fist. For a brief period, nothing was cooler.
In 2016, however, ‘Safe’ is extinct; a thing of the past. We have moved on. If the average man is going to implement a fist bump he must do it drenched in irony, not the earnest solemnity of the playground. Only if you are cool on a platinum scale can you whip out a Sincere Fist Bump – an SFB. And if you are older than 38, never even curl your hand into a fist, ironic or otherwise. You will just come across as a menacing weirdo.
One additional note to jot down: unless you are 100 per cent sure that your partner inhabits the same mental space as you, do not scrunch those fingers into a fist. Just as you should never force a fart, you should never force a fist bump.
One unmistakable feature of being a man is having those friends who are close enough only to warrant the ‘rapid nod’. When you know someone but share an understanding that the pair of you could not sustain a conversation for longer than 30 seconds, you merely nod. This is fine. It is the Cold War of the greetings world. If you do this with all of your friends, you obviously have a problem.
You can only really get away with going in for a kiss on the cheek if you have actually killed people. A supercut of all the man-on-man kisses in The Sopranos would make a feature-length film. These are men’s men, real men, men who carve up bodies in bathtubs. You can’t work in marketing, be introduced to a new client and, while holding their hand, kiss them tenderly on both cheeks à la Paulie Gualtieri. You could, but you’d forever be referred to in emails as “that guy who tries to kiss you whenever you meet him – he’s not going to be there, is he?”
Bit odd, this one. Don’t do this one.