My eighth-grade communications teacher taught me that some people are touchy-feely and some need their space, and that’s why good communicators keep physical contact to a minimum when they’re dealing with people they don’t know very well. But I didn’t go to school in Texas and, clearly, neither did my eighth-grade communications teacher. She never taught me about the acquaintance hug.
Recently, I ran into a friend of a friend at a party. He hugged me and then said, “OK, tell me your name again.” He didn’t know me well enough to remember by name — we’d met only a few times several months before — but he knew me well enough to wrap his arms around me. Ultimate acquaintance hug.
The first time you meet a Texan, you shake hands. Any subsequent meetings are fair game for a hug. Some Texans are touchier than others. Aggies are the touchiest Texans in existence. North Texans, in my experience, are more likely to follow standard American hugging protocol — unless they’re Aggies.
How can a Midwesterner distinguish between an acquaintance hug and a friend hug? First, acquaintance hugs are often approached from the side rather than the front. You can spot one from across the room. Second, they’re brief — no lingering allowed. You barely know this person, remember?
Third — and I know this sounds obvious, but hear me out — they come from acquaintances. Because Midwesterners hug only family and close friends, the acquaintance hug can be confusing. Does the hugger lack the customarily cold politeness you’ve come to expect? Or have you and the hugger just become besties in record time?
The answer to nearly every confusing situation I’ve run into in Texas: It’s cultural. Favorite bartenders, professional contacts who’ve had at least two drinks, male friends of friends, and any twentysomething girl you’ve met at least once are all prime candidates for an acquaintance hug. These people don’t call you to hang out — they likely don’t even have your number — but they will touch you in Texas.
Like most weird Texas customs, I’m starting to kinda like it.