Robert & Roberta Adair




Stories from Robert & Roberta Adair

In Kosovo, handshaking was a big deal.  People shook hands when meeting neighbors in the street, when going on visits, and when a meeting started.  There were social rules about who to shake hands with first, who initiates the handshake, etc.  With closer friends of the same gender, the handshake was often accompanied by leaning left so that each others’ right cheeks touched and kissing the air (right cheek, left cheek, right cheek – almost always 3 times).  Handshakes, cheek kissing, cheek pinching, walking arm in arm…there was lots of touching in the Vo.  The hug, however, was not too common.

My acquired wisdom in handshaking and cheek kissing aren’t very useful here in J-land.  What is even less useful, however, is the good ol’ American hug.  A Japanese friend who studied in the States told me when I first arrived that she hated being hugged by her college friends.  She said, “I hugged them back, but in my mind I was thinking, ‘Get away! Don’t touch me!’”  I have only initiated hugging three times here that I can recall (3 times in 7 months.  That’s crazy), but all 3 times have been incredibly awkward for both parties.

#1 – The one lady lived in the States for several years.  After she and another English speaking Japanese lady had lunch at my house, I hugged her before she left.  I think this act of familiarity was a little too soon – in addition to not being from a huggy culture.  Wow, it was so weird, and both of us giggled embarrassingly.

#2 – A friend came over to help prep for her friend’s birthday party.  We’ve met several times for coffee, dinner, etc., and for some reason I had a moment where I forgot that she was Japanese.  I went in for a hug – a stiff, awkward, and really uncomfortable hug.

#3 – There is a team of 23 American college students here for the week.  I was talking with them before the church service and then ran into a Japanese friend.  I think I was mentally “in America,” and swooped in for a hug.  She hugged me back but had a who-are-you kind of look in her eye.  I wound up apologizing.

Bowing is great.  Germs don’t spread.  There is grace and humility that is conveyed that I think is healthy and beautiful.  Yet touch is important and good, too (and I’m not just talking about hugging).  I don’t want to impose my value for touch or make people uncomfortable.  Yet I am curious how so little touch affects people here.

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