Free hugs!

Free hugs. I’m strongly considering starting a free hugs campaign in Karamoja and perhaps all of Uganda. I understand that ideally as a foreigner it’s not my job to change culture, but I’m seriously hugs deprived. After spending four years of my life at a university where on a so-so day I gave and received about two hugs, then spending the next year and half of my life hanging out with South Africans, who similarly treat hugging as a standard greeting no matter how often you see a person; I’m feeling a bit hug insecure (to use the food lingo that I’m getting used to up here) in the hand shake culture of Uganda.

It’s fascinating how different countries approach greetings. In Korea and much of northeast Asia a bow was the standard greeting, with the depth of the bow given varying depending on your seniority. While hugs amongst Koreans were virtually nonexistent, it was not uncommon to hold hands or link arms with your same sex friends (something that might draw ridicule in most western countries). If it wasn’t for my expat friends, particularly the South Africans, I may have died from lack of human physical contact (don’t take that the wrong way).

Even in the continent of Europe there are huge variations in methods of greeting. In Germany a firm handshake was sufficient. Germans may be efficient and hardworking, but their hugging skills were generally rather poor. In Spain a quick hug and a kiss on each cheek, in Denmark one kiss. So confusing when you’re trying to be culturally sensitive! Do I offer my hand, open my arms for an embrace, or go straight to the cheek? Awkward.

I’ve got my sturdy African handshake down pat, and I don’t mind the solidness and sincerity of the handshakes here, but I still find myself craving one of the warm feel good embraces that were a part of daily life at Valparaiso University. Even among the expats here, there is a hug deficiency, making me miss my time in southern Africa. So the next time you see me I expect a hug!


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