My neighbor called me the other day. He had something for me and wondered when I might be around for him to drop by. It was raining. I didn’t want him to be out in the rain and risk falling. He had taken a nasty spill a couple of weeks ago while out walking the dog. Besides I had a Veterans Day card for him that I hadn’t yet delivered, so figured I’d just walk it over to him rather than him coming my way.
We used to hug each other whenever we visited. Always a big hug and kiss on the cheek. Not anymore. The pandemic has changed how we greet each other. We haven’t hugged each other since February. For several months we barely saw each other. Nowadays we have taken to exchanging food items, cards, a bottle of champagne to celebrate Biden’s win.
I miss greeting people with hugs and kisses, don’t you?
With my own pregnant daughter, I devised a way to hug her with my raincoat put on backwards so that there is no skin-to-skin contact but at least we can feel the warmth of one another. The baby is due in December so we have rules already established for keeping mama and baby safe. One of which is kissing on the feet only until the vaccine is available.
There was a woman who lived up the street from Granny Spears by the name of Mrs. Blizzard. If I wrote children’s books I’d write one about Mrs. Blizzard. She was the female version of Ichabod Crane. Mrs. Blizzard was a tall woman with long arms that swung at her sides like the oars of a shell, propelling her forward as she walked. She could sit on her couch and reach all the way to the dining table in her kitchen. I don’t know if it’s because her house was that small or her arms were that long. They seemed to stretch Gumby style.
Anyway, we were sitting on that couch one afternoon, visiting, when Mrs. Blizzard told me she never let anybody kiss her babies. “I didn’t even kiss them myself,” she said. “No telling what germs a person could spread.”
I wasn’t but a girl of 11 or 12 when she made that proclamation but it stuck with me. Perhaps because I had a mom who wasn’t the affectionate sort. I can’t really recall our mother kissing us when we were kids. Later in life, she would greet us with a kiss if we offered, but it wasn’t really her way. Still, Mrs. Blizzard’s declaration that she didn’t kiss her own babies stunned me. Who doesn’t kiss their own babies? Of course, I had no knowledge of polio or TB or the 1918 influenza.
Hugs and kisses aren’t the only way to greet each other. Different peoples around the world have long greeted each other in different ways than we Americans do.
Some Tibetans, for instance, stick out their tongues upon greeting each other. It is said they do this as a way to show they don’t have the black tongue of a mythological King who was particularly cruel.
In Niger, the Kanuri people shake a fist at the other person’s eye level while calling out: “Whooshy! Whooshy!”
In New Zealand, the Maori tribe presses their foreheads and noses together to greet one another. Mrs. Blizzard would not approve.
Some cultures rely on rhythmic clapping or finger-snapping.
And not every culture uses “Hello” or “Hey Y’all” as a greeting.
In Swaziland, the greeting is “I see you.”
In parts of New Guinea, the greeting is “You are here.”
In Bhutan, they inquire, “Is your body well?” which seems to be the most appropriate way to greet anyone from around the world in the midst of a global pandemic.
In Malawi, the greeting is “How did you wake up?” to which the answer must always be something like “We woke up well.” If you woke on the wrong side of the bed, they don’t really want to know that.
But perhaps my favorite greeting of all comes from the South Pacific Island of Niue, where the greeting is “Love be with you.”
I don’t know how we managed to come up with just a simple “hello” when there are so many more meaningful ways to express how delighted we are to see one another. In fact, some cultures greet one another with a simple “Happy.”
I’m happy to see you.
Happy to know you slept well.
Happy to know you have survived this frightening time in our world.
Happy that you are still alive and so am I.
Happy that we can meet again soon.
But when we do, let’s bow over our prayer hands and say, “Love be with you.”
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of MOTHER OF RAIN (Mercer Univ. Press).