Since I’ve spent the past three days talking about what it’s like to come home, let’s turn the table around and reminisce what it’s like to move to the US.
In a student town like Davis, the community is composed of students and academia from all over the world. As a result, we have a mish mash of various culture. Social interaction becomes a game of guessing. Take the first point of contact for an example. How do you greet someone you just met?
When you are in a professional setting, it’s easy. You shake hands.
When you are in a circle of friends, this becomes a challenge. Do you shake hands? Do you hug? Do you kiss each other on the cheek?
Shaking hands is always thrown into the mix; it’s a matter of what happens next. Some Americans hug even when you just meet this person for the first time. This is especially true if you are being introduced by a mutual friend. Again, not all of them do that – it is a subject of debate even among the Americans themselves. I have seen some people dodging this potential social awkwardness by saying “I’m a hugger,” then jumped in for the hug.
Other cultures have different norms. The Latins hug and kiss both left and right cheeks, or sometimes just one cheek. Some Europeans hug and kiss the cheeks three times. Asians, on the other hand, pull that please-don’t-pickpocket-my-wallet face when someone we just met hug us.
In Indonesia, I would only hug my female relatives or someone I know really well. Cross-gender physical contact is generally not embraced (no pun intended). When I have just arrived in Davis, being hugged by the opposite sex was uncomfortable for me, let alone being hugged by the opposite sex whom I just met for the first time. Even if I managed to get away with shaking hands only, a similar inner dilemma would arise the next time you see each other. I’ve only met him twice, I don’t know him that well yet, should I hug him? But everyone is hugging each other. I don’t want to make him think that I dislike him personally. Aaahhhh, he’s coming for it! WHERE IS MY WALLET???
Guide to hugging an Indonesian female you just met.
A few years ago, a group of friends and I went to Disneyland. One of us met up with his other group of friends, and we hung out a for a bit. I didn’t get to talk to them that much during the trip, so to me they’re categorized as pseudostrangers. This other group of friends had to leave a day before we did, and there we were, saying goodbye to each other at the parking lot of the motel where we stayed. I shook hands with everyone and that’s it, but one of the guys went in for a hug, something I was not comfortable with since I do not consider him as someone I knew well yet. This panda uses humor to alleviate awkward moments, so I spontaneously yelled out, “STRANGER DANGER!” He literally paused mid-air, looking shocked, then moved away from the hug.
Later on, I learned from my friend that this guy is very sensitive. I must have offended him. I felt so bad, yet a little part of me still think it’s kind of funny.
It took me about three years before I completely got used to this whole ordeal. Now I have adopted the middle ground: just give everyone a darn hug!