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Small Biz Bites: No hugs please, we’re being careful


Sukasha Singh is an accomplished journalist and content strategist. Her work has been published across multiple media platforms and she has worked in senior positions at some of South Africa’s best newspapers, including Daily Maverick 168 and the Mail & Guardian.

Greeting in a time of Covid-19 could be tricky, but not if your friends are as weird as you are. However, the virus could give us an opportunity to re-engineer outdated social etiquette that dictates physical contact.

A good friend: “Hi Suks,” she says with arms outstretched, seemingly coming in for a hug.

Me: “No no! We can’t hug!”

GF: “Huh?”

Me: “We can’t hug. It’s not a good idea because of coronavirus.”

GF: “You have Covid-19?”

Me: “No, you naan! I’m just saying we shouldn’t be in physical contact with people because that’s how the virus spreads.”

GF: “So you don’t have it?”

Me: “I don’t know. Do you know?”

GF: “I don’t know. I don’t have the symptoms, but I was in contact with my mother-in-law, who was in the UK last year. I knew we should’ve banned her from our house years ago. This Covid-19 stuff must be a blessing for you.”

Me: “What? How?”

GF: “You hate hugging people.”

Me: “Oh ja. That’s true. But I’ve known you forever, so I don’t normally mind hugging you.”

At this point, we’re still hovering outside the street-side coffee shop we’re meant to be having breakfast in, because neither of us wanted to go to a crowded mall.

GF: “Should we do the elbow thing? Where should we sit?”

Me: “Far away from people. Here, on the pavement. The elbow thing looks silly and we’d still be quite close for that.”

GF: “What about the Vulcan salute?”

Me: “That’s perfect!”

Standing at least 1.5m away from each other, we hold our palms up, fingers shaped in a V as she says, “Live long and prosper, dude”. I smile at her and quietly thank the universe that my friends are as weird as I am.

Pretty much everyone I know is aware of my aversion to hugging as a form of greeting, unless I’m very familiar with the person I’m greeting.

Countless awkward interactions have ensued over the years as a result of me not wanting to readily give up my personal space only to have my breasts squashed in a tight hug with a person whose name I don’t even know. So I would always offer an outstretched hand before anyone got close enough for a hug.

Sadly, South Africans are huggers, so I would inevitably get unusual reactions to an outstretched hand, but I didn’t care because the cumbersome greetings were always better than a hug.

Some people genuinely take offence to you not wanting to hug them, especially if you’ve had a few drinks with them. I would offer either high fives, or fist bumps, but that didn’t always placate slightly drunk new acquaintances, which meant that I would often leave parties, events, staff socials, extended family gatherings etc without saying goodbye.

But now, there’s Covid-19 and as terrible as the pandemic is, maybe it will force us all to permanently re-engineer social graces and etiquette that dictates physical contact as a means of greeting.

People are more than a little anxious about Covid-19. I know this because I run a small business that makes personalised bracelets with words on brass tokens. In the past two weeks, I’ve received a few orders for bracelets with the words “wash hands”.

Initially, I thought it was unusual because people normally choose more profound words than “wash hands”, but it makes sense to have a constant reminder to wash your hands on one of your hands. After all, it is one of the simple methods that the World Health Organisation suggests we all practise to slow down the spread of Covid-19 and I don’t think we should underestimate how effective these small measures are.

Assuming we make it through this strange time, maybe we should consider keeping the no-contact greetings and personal hygiene practices we collectively adopt, not just for the benefit of nonconformists like me who don’t like to hug strangers, but for the sake of survival and to mitigate the effect of whatever virus comes after Covid-19. DM


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