A quiet yet unsettling trend has swept Britain in the last few years. The dreaded man hug suddenly replacing the traditional handshake. It's unavoidable and has happened to all of us by now. The hesitant fumble of awkwardness thats supposed to showcase what a friendly, open, modern guy you are but instead makes you look like an uneasy creep with the physical empathy of a robot.
The fad crept in via too much American TV and gained a foothold in the south east, as is so often the case with foreign invaders (see the Normans, grey squirrels, Starbucks etc). Secure in its East London base it spread its tentacles out across the country like a sinister touchy feely octopus and has now achieved ubiquity. Man hugs have become the new norm, but very few British people do them well because deep down, we know its over the top.
We feel phoney doing it: Lets say you bump into an old friend you haven't seen in years - you enjoy a brief, stilted catchup and then you announce that you have to hurry off and buy your M&S meal for one or whatever so the old acquaintance spreads his arms and it dawns on you that you're expected to clasp him to your bosom as if he'd just rescued your first born child from death or you'd both just discovered a new continent together or you'd basically done something worthy of this outpouring of emotion and human contact. It's happened to all of us and it makes us feel just as flustered and awkward as when you kiss a european girl on the cheek in greeting AND THEN SHE PRESENTS THE OTHER CHEEK WHILE YOU'RE PULLING AWAY aaargh.
It didn't used to be like this. The empire was built on sturdy handshakes and the occasional arm clasp at times of extreme peril. This is a fact recently acknowledged by the producers of Downton Abbey, whose etiquette advisor is a herald to the queen or something equally dry and he is insisting that the cast stop touching each other on camera due to its historical inaccuracy. As we all suspected, people at that time barely ever made contact unless absolutely necessary. Allegedly it was something to do with the fear of diseases but my own theory is that it was down to greater self assurance. I can only applaud Downton and appeal that we bring back some of the reserve for which we're known.
I know why the man hug has spread so successfully of course. When faced with a man trying to fold you in a loving, brotherly embrace, it takes a stern character to step back, extend a hand and suggest that everyone calm down. Such a move doesn't necessarily paint one in the best light. It could appear churlish. Observers may look askance and conclude that you're a cold fish who probably went to a cruel boarding school and has very strong views on immigration. Nevertheless, that is exactly the kind of moral fortitude that we need to display in order to turn the tide. In future I would advise leading with the extended hand of proportionality before the other guy knows what's hit him. Be friendly but stand firm. I won't implore you as that's the language of a hugger. Instead I appeal to your sense of rationalism. If enough of us combine I trust we can bring back handshakes and end this madness.
Having said that I appreciate that as a society we've completely failed to stop past invasions, so if standing firm doesn't work then let's take the red squirrel defence - we'll all move to the Scottish highlands, establish a protected handshake zone and shoot all man huggers on sight. Sounds good right? Let's shake on it.