We went to the airport yesterday to pick up our friend Sally, inbound from Australia for a summer vacation partly with us. Which kicked off two largely-unrelated lines of thought that are not quite large enough to deserve their own essays. The big thing is the angle you hold your hips when you hug.

Vacations · Sally’s enjoying a four-week vacation. Four weeks!?!? Seems to me like something from another planet. She’s in a management position (i.e. give us your life) in the hospitality industry (i.e. low pay, hard work, lousy benefits) and she still gets to take four weeks.

Quite a few North Americans won’t have noticed this, but we are really different from the rest of the world in our attitude towards holidays. In Australia and especially in Europe people are generally entitled to from three to six weeks of vacation, and they generally take it. In Switzerland I’ve seen movie theatres closed for part of the summer because the staff is away.

Does aggregate productivity suffer? Yes. Is this still a better attitude towards life and work? Absolutely.

How to Hug · There’s an old joke about a high-school kid about to go on his first date who took a book of this title out of the library and it turned out to be Volume 10 of the Encyclopedia. But I digress.

Sally took a long time to get through the airport, so we hung out for over an hour in the arrivals hall. I was fascinated watching the people stream out of the opening in the fence and into the arms of their waiting loved ones; or not. I felt like I ought to construct a people-watcher’s blind like birders use, and hunch in there with a notepad and record cultural patterns, because they sure are out in your face in this context.

There are some cultures where hugging is just not done, and while a lot of these people are Chinese-looking, it’s not as simple as that. Rather than try to produce a grand unified theory of airport greeting behavior (after all, I have neither the blind nor the notebook), here are rough observational notes:

  • People who are culturally non-huggers suffer for it; you will see what looks like a reunion after long separation between a grown daughter and a grown mother, and they will stand face to face, eyes full of tears, and almost quiver it seems.
  • Non-hugger displacement activity includes reaching out to touch the other only for a moment, and quickly turning to walk side-by-side.
  • Some groups cheek-kiss, one side then the other, the number of kisses can be two, three or even four, and there seems no doubt or hesitancy how many there will be.
  • Japanese people and those who meet them bow of course; those who’ve spent any time in Japan won’t be surprised at how many shades of meaning and style can infuse a bow.
  • Some stories are sad, the few people who come out obviously expecting to be met but aren’t.
  • Women coming to meet someone invest more effort than men in their preparations; flowers, dress, make-up. You can guess by looking at them whether they’re waiting for a lover, a colleague, or a sister, but sometimes you guess wrong.
  • The women also hug more expressively, with (perhaps unconscious) thought going into the placement of arms, torso and especially hips.
  • Only the waiting ones, though, people incoming to Vancouver have usually come a long way (it’s a big country and the Pacific’s a big ocean), the people being greeted, young and old, man and woman, tend to droop into the hugs they get, with smiles but a kind of blank expression.

Nobody could watch this for long and remain misanthropic. People’s obvious joy in each other and the way it paints their faces, that’s a heart-warmer.

author · Dad
colophon · rights
picture of the day
June 16, 2003
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