Dear Mary

Dear Mary: How do I greet friends without hugs or handshakes?

13 June 2020

9:00 AM

13 June 2020

9:00 AM

Q. Now we are instructed to mingle again, I’m sure I’m not alone in being surprised to find an awkwardness on meeting or departing from friends and relations. The lack of handshake or hug has us all twitching. I struggle to find the right socially distanced replacement; the ‘namaste’ praying hands gesture seems rather mutton dressed as lamb for those of us who are the wrong generation for a gap year experience. Do you think the over-arm bowling gesture might give the right spirit of cheeriness and connection without actual body contact?
— L.O.G., Petersfield, Hampshire

A. Nice idea and thank you for sharing it, but the gesture is somewhat niche and could even cause alarm rather than conveying cheer. However there may be no need for replacement gestures. It is transpiring that sophisticates in general are secretly quite happy about the physical restrictions in place. The currency of the kiss, let alone the hug, had been devalued by the promiscuous round of cheek bashing that had become customary, in some ways compulsory, pre-Covid. It no longer signalled a special affection. While the young now greet each other with the words ‘virtual hug’ as they mimic an empty embrace from a distance, grown-ups are more than reconciled to making do with broad smiles and rueful mini waves on meeting — and blown kisses on departure. It was time for a reset of expectations.

Q. I had been in lockdown since 20 March with a great friend in the depths of the country. As you can imagine all the old-school entertainments came to the fore — Scrabble, quizzes, jigsaws. We completed our first jigsaw without recrimination. Our second was rather more tricky — a historical county map. We had around 70 pieces left when I took advantage of the partial lifting of lockdown to visit a friend in her garden nearby. To my shock and horror, when I returned… the jigsaw had been finished. As you can imagine, I was furious at this behaviour — it was totally selfish and thoughtless. However, my friend can see nothing wrong. Your views please.
— Name withheld, Northants

A. This was indeed a disgraceful breach of etiquette but I’m afraid you have missed your moment. Sometimes only bursting into tears on the spot will do the trick when a hard heart needs to be shown the error of his ways.

Q. May I pass on a tip to fellow insomniacs? I have discovered there is no need to lie helplessly waiting till 4 a.m. for Steve Allen on LBC to make everything all right. You can simply download his programme from the morning before and set that a-going as you get into bed.
— M.W., Pewsey, Wiltshire

A. Thank you for sending in this most useful tip.

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