Unlearning old behaviors

Walking over absentmindedly to a colleague who was in town but usually works from home to ask a question in person rather than email or IM, my mind was light years away. Hi! I said cheerily and he rose from his chair to greet me and gave me a rather warm hug. His eyes twinkled. I was jolted into reality. Awkwardly I hugged him back and proceeded to ask my question. Five minutes later at my desk I was mentally berating myself for my awkwardness. I was not sure why I was surprised. Was it because I did not expect to receive such a warm welcome or was it because it was so sudden.

The thoughts took me back to my growing up years. My first ever ‘boy’ friend was my classmate in seventh grade. I was not the social butterfly then that I am today. The most I would talk to the guys in my class would be about lessons and that too if there was no one else I could reach out to. So, one evening when I heard a bicycle bell ring in front of my home, I looked out and distinctly remember feeling worried that my classmate was at my door. I knew he lived in my neighborhood but never really expected him to come home. Smiling awkwardly and wondering what amma would say, I invited him inside. We discussed something about class sitting stiffly around our wooden dining table in the manner shy seventh graders would in my times and he was on his way.

Over the rest of school and college, I went on to make good friends of both sexes but there was an unspoken code regarding physical contact. We would make sure we never really sat too close to each other or linked hands or for that matter hugged. I still remember my FIL being upset with me because the friends who attended my wedding shook hands with me. I remember being perplexed and trying to reason with him.

The past few years away from India saw me go through a “hugging” phase when I would hug most of my friends if I saw them after a long time. It was still restricted to woman friends though. Sitting at my desk now, I wonder how much of the awkwardness stems from the ideals I grew up with but do not agree with now. What does it take to unlearn beliefs imprinted deep in our psyche?

On a related note, I found Usha’s note on feminism very similar to what I think.

6 comments

  1. Aah….well…never had problems myself. Thing is others around me did! How can she be like this? Upbringing, reputation…blah blah. Well, did not care a damn. I have friends who still keep their distance, some who were always the meet & hug kinds (and still are), those who have grown out of that no physical contact thingie (the last you know them personally 😉 )
    Definitely like the take of Usha on feminism…as she says…I don’t know if I am one! 🙂

    @Apar: 🙂 Having known you all this while. I know exactly what you mean.

  2. Can identify with you.The hugging culture was never there in my college life. But when i cam here after wedding, all B’s cousins would hug and welcome..used to feel odd..but over time now I have accepted that. I would react exactly like you did if suddenly faced with a hug welcome! Even now, on the hugging moment, I wonder how to hug and worry if I am not doing it the right way!

    @anamika: Haha! Am with you on your last line. That’s exactly what I think when I hug someone I don’t know too well.

  3. Yes it is an American culture, I had the same feeling when I first came across this habit. When I was still newly married and new to the US, we visited my husband’s close friend/classmate and her husband. As soon as she opened her front door, she hugged my husband. I had the look of “What in the world is going on”? You should have seen my face then. Later when I told him about this, he started laughed so hard. We still laugh about it. :))

    @sl: LOL! I can imagine the look. 🙂

  4. I read your blog yesterday and thankfully so, because a few hours later as I bid farewell to a colleague who was moving to a new job, I was better prepared for his hug.

    @Rekha: Didn’t think this post will have practical use. Glad it helped 🙂

  5. I so relate to this and it changed a lot after I lived abroad…..now I really feel I was quite silly…but I guess thats how everybody of us were when in school/college…but the generation after us will not relate to this…..it changed up a lot in India too….

    @rupa: Am sure! I see my younger cousins and nieces and know I grew up in a different world altogether.

  6. I hear you… I was OK with both sexes… the hugging was equal 🙂

    At my wedding.. all my dear dear friends (all guys) were at the wedding and my dad said, “Tell them you won’t hug… they’ll understand. Because if you do, someone on your in laws side may never understand… and a harmless hug may plant a seed for a tree you didn’t want in the first place”. He was so sweet that when when these guys came home, he told them, ‘”hug her here if you wish… not at the mandapam… not tomorrow”.

    @Raaga: Welcome! Really sweet of your dad. Does feel like I lived in antiquated times.

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