Let us make this absolutely clear: we don’t do hugs
Article from: The Sunday Telegraph London
Article date: April 5, 2009
Author: NIGEL FARNDALE
Goodness, the power of a photograph. That one of Michelle Obama and the Queen standing next to one another with their husbands either side was… well, I’d better take a deep breath, gather, step back from the brink before I embarrass myself. It was moving. I was moved.
There was something about those handsome, smiling, clean-limbed, corn-fed Americans towering benignly over our petite Queen and her shorter-than-he-used-to-be consort: a meeting of generations, of worlds old and new, of allies, of minds. My love for America has always been unconditional, and that photograph reminded me why.
Then they went and ruined it with the next picture, the one of them hugging. I’m sorry, Mrs Obama, I don’t care how strapping and smiley and gorgeous you are, no one touches the Queen. How do you think the Tibetans would feel if you started manhandling the Dalai Lama? Mmm? Or the Italians if you gave the Pope’s knee a friendly squeeze? It’s just not on. There are no excuses. You should have known. THE BRITISH. DO NOT. HUG.
If you check through the State Department protocols you were given for this trip, you will see it there on page one, first paragraph. “Please note: The British do not hug. They are a reserved people with codes of behaviour that stretch back for a millennium. They will nod politely, they will shake your hand, but invade their personal space and they will cringe, both outwardly and inwardly.”
I know, I know, already there is some revisionism going on. On Friday, one newspaper claimed it was the Queen who hugged first. Of course she didn’t. She might have “ushered”. The Queen has to usher from time to time otherwise people would just stand around gaping at her all day and Royal functions would never end. On these occasions, her white-gloved hand will slip out and touch the small of the back. This is a prompt, a steer, an ush. It doesn’t give the recipient the right to clamp a great mitt round her shoulder.
To be fair, Mrs Obama, I think you quickly realised your faux pas. The following day you went hugging mad: teachers, parents, schoolchildren – anyone who came within five yards of you got hugged. Presumably you were hoping that in this blur of hugging we would soon forget about that one particular hug. But it doesn’t work like that.
I know what you’re thinking: he’s just upset because he didn’t get a hug. You’re thinking that, if I had signalled him over with those supple rolls of my wrists and said: “Come on, big guy, you know you want to,” he would have been across the room like a shot. Well, you’d be wrong.
Example: the other day Bette Midler hugged me. There I was, sitting on a sofa interviewing her, when she told me that instead of keeping a diary she always has one of her entourage take photographs of whoever she is with. Next thing I know she is cuddling up to me and a photograph is being taken. I was emailed it later. Midler is all smiles, so very unselfconscious and American. I look like I’m caught in headlights. My body language says: “Help! I’m being hugged!”
Evolution must have something to do with this. I reckon that the Pilgrim Fathers didn’t go out to colonise the New World by choice, they were politely asked to leave because they were going around hugging everyone. You can see their descendants in sitcoms like Friends. Joey and Chandler are always going around saying, “Let’s hug it out!” The funny thing is, Gordon Brown is clearly descended from one of the non-huggers left behind on this cold little island. The tactile Barack Obama couldn’t keep his hands off him, and you could tell that every sinew in Mr Brown’s body was screaming: Please don’t touch me! I like him for that.