Not everyone's a hugger

June 30, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

Candace Culbreath, 17, of Mont Alto, Pa., saw an older friend she hadn't seen for years at the Mummers' Parade last year and got an unexpected, uncomfortable hug.

"The hug was kind of extended and he was a little too close," Candace recalled.

So she pushed him away a little - drawing a funny look from him, but message received.

Sometimes hugging just isn't appropriate, but huggers might not be aware or just might not care.

On Wednesday Candace averted an oncoming, unwanted hug from a friend's boyfriend by sticking her hand out for a handshake as he approached.

That's exactly what she should have done to avoid an unwanted or creepy hug, experts said.

"Put the arm out first to establish the greeting and that will eliminate a lot of the unwanted hugging and kissing. Not all of it, but some of it," said Barbara Pachter, an author and expert on business and international etiquette.


If an extended arm doesn't stop the oncoming hug, turn to present the side of your body and wrap an arm around the person's shoulder so it's a side-to-side hug rather than a frontal hug, said Patti Wood, a body-language expert and author of "Success Signals: A Guide to Reading Body Language."

About 3 percent of the American population finds touch repugnant, Wood said.

Whether a hug is appropriate often depends on a person's perception of what's good and bad, she said.

People have become more aware of sexual harassment since the 1980s, Wood said. Now, people often find a hug or kiss uncomfortable because they perceive some sexual intent.

A guy might press his chest against a woman's breasts too closely, or put his pelvis up against a woman's body, or the hug might linger too long, she said.

Wood said men rarely see a woman hugging a man as uncomfortable and if they do, it's because he doesn't know her that well.

However, Pachter said even some men don't want to be hugged.

Wood said it tends to be female salespeople who have the biggest problem with inappropriate hugs - from clients.

In sales, sometimes people like to hug and kiss because it shows you have a special relationship, Pachter said.

"But - and it's a huge but - you need to understand that it sends messages and people might not like the message," she said.

For instance, a saleswoman who goes to hug and kiss a long-standing client in front of the client's new co-worker might be giving the new co-worker the wrong idea, Pachter said. He might now think it's OK for him to hug and kiss her.

Pachter knows of one instance in which a saleswoman who regularly hugged and kissed a certain client, saw the client out at dinner one night and gave him a big hug and kiss - in front of his wife.

That was not OK, Pachter said.

"You need to know where you are when you're doing these things," she said.

Awkward kisses can be more difficult to combat than hugs because sometimes it's cultural and a person could lose out on business, Wood said. For instance, the French like to do the "triple kiss."

Yolonda Pikemuccini, of Waynesboro, Pa., said how she reacts to an unwanted hug depends on the setting.

Overseas, a hug could be a cultural gesture so she'd be less uncomfortable with that. If someone she'd just met or didn't know well - in the states - tried to hug her, Pikemuccini said she'd hold her purse and make sure everything stayed in her wallet.

Staci Gigeous, 25, of Hagerstown, said sometimes she's allowed the hug but then stepped back nonchalantly afterward so there's more personal space between them to send a message for the future.

Or, in some instances, she'll say something to the person so there isn't another occurrence.

The moves people make to avoid hugs are the same ones that people who want to hug others should keep an eye out for so they don't share an unwanted embrace, Wood said. This includes eye contact dropping down.

"If you're a hugger, be conscious of those," she said.

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