If you were to meet the Queen of England etiquette dictates that as a man you refer to her as “your majesty” and if you reside in the United Kingdom you bow. If you don’t reside in the UK, then you should extend your right hand after she extends hers to shake hands. You should also never turn your back on the queen. Pretty straight forward and simple.
If you were to meet the President of the United States you should rise when he enters the room, refer to him as “Mr. President” and again, offer your right hand in a greeting.
If you meet a businessman in Japan for the first time, you bow and then take part in an elaborate exchange of business cards holding the card with both of your hands as you offer it to him.
Each of these—and countless others—exchanges have rules of etiquette. You know what to do when you’re in those situations. You know what’s acceptable and what’s not. The rules simplify the interaction.
So what are the rules of etiquette for the man-hug?
You’ll see it dozens of times tonight in the NFL draft. As each pick is announced the player walks on stage, man-hugs the commissioner, and then holds up the jersey of his new team. The man-hug (or as some call it the bro-hug) starts with a hand clasp then the two men pull each other in for a shoulder to shoulder touch and seal it with a simultaneous back slap.
It’s more friendly than a handshake, less personal than a full-on, so-glad-to-see-you-my-old-friend full-on hug, but who determines when you use it? What are the rules? I’ve met guys for the first time and they leaned in for a man hug. I don’t even know you. I don’t want you in my personal space!
I’m not going to man-hug my brothers. That seems insincere and contrived. I’m certainly not going to man-hug the Queen of England. She’s not a man. Younger guys, guys under 25 seem comfortable man-hugging every guy they meet for the first time. In some settings I sense guys are offended if the person they meet doesn’t lean in for a man-hug. But what are the rules? If I interview a first round NFL draft pick the day after he man-hugs the commissioner am I supposed to lean in for a man-hug too or does a handshake still suffice? Are they man-hugging the commissioner because everyone is in such a good mood or because he holds a position of power and authority?
According to this New York Times article, English professor Eric Anderson believes the man-hug grew out of cultural changes in the early 90’s when cultural homophobia began to soften in the west.
Dr. Akil Houston of Ohio University calls the man-hug a socially acceptable display that combines affection with aggression (http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/get-over-here-man-decoding-the-brohug).
No one I can find lays claim to inventing the man-hug. Dr. Houston believes it originated in African-American culture and grew into the main stream because of the popularity of MTV and BET networks in the late 80’s.
Personally I think it’s all part of the blurring between personal and private matters—the law of unintended consequences playing out through social media. Do I really need to see a photo of your dinner before you eat it? Isn’t that part of your private life? Sort of like hugging used to be part of my private life? We hugged the people we knew well, our parents, our kids, our friends who we visited the hospital. But never strangers. Never people who ran organizations we just got hired into. Never another guy we met for the first time in a social setting. And we knew that. We knew when to shake hands and when to hug.
I’m clearly not sure when to do either now. And I suspect a lot of people—even people much younger than me—share the same confusion. For example, if one of the players who hugs the NFL commissioner at the draft tonight gets called into the commissioner’s office next year because of a disciplinary matter will the commissioner great him at the door with a man-hug? I don’t think so, but I’m not sure. And if they do man-hug does it come before or after they post their selfie on Instagram?