Don’t kiss me, I’m British!
I was born in in Cape Town, South Africa and spent most of my life there. I am often asked the question: ‘were you English South African or Afrikaans South African?’ This is due to the split in the culture dating back to when South Africa was fought over by the Dutch and the British like a rag doll between two spoiled children. Of course the French, Portuguese and even the Germans poked their noses in, but it was the Dutch and British cultures that prevailed. In South Africa you can belong to an Afrikaans family, an Afrikaans-English family, an English-Afrikaans family or an English family. In answer to the question then, I was born into the latter although my Grandfather on my Father’s side had French and German ancestors that had slewed into Afrikanerdom over the centuries since the Dutch invasion. We never talk about those ancestors. Happily, though, my Mom was the guiding influence in our lives, having almost-British-born parents and I therefore grew up with a love of Britain and everything British. This includes, but is not limited to, dry sense of humor, food, Noddy, Big Ears, Beatrix Potter, Monty Python, the English countryside and driving on the left-hand side of the road. I was therefore fortunate to be able to move my family to the UK in 2001 and was honored to become a British citizen after Her Maj said ‘Yes’ five years (or so) later.Thus I spent a happy 10 years living in England immersed up to my receding hairline in British culture.
However, as an IT contractor, I’m obliged to find work in whichever country happens to be offering a contract in my specific brand of IT. Since the UK has become the Shangri-la for just about everyone from Asia and most eastern European countries too, work in my field has been hard to come by in the UK. I therefore turned my sights to Europe in the hopes of filling a gap left by someone that had migrated to the UK. One such contract led me to work in Brussels for a few grueling months. I say ‘grueling’ because the company was looking for a cross between Superman, Einstein and Harry Potter who could solve all the problems that not even IBM themselves had been able to solve. Sadly for them, they got me instead and their disappointment grew day by day. But that’s another story. The contract was also grueling for another reason….
I discovered, to my horror, that not only do all the male French coworkers shake hands with everyone in the office every morning, but the French women KISS EVERYONE IN THE OFFICE EVERY MORNING….ON BOTH CHEEKS!! AAAAAAARRRRGH! For one such as I who is not only pseudo-British, but also reserved by choice, this was an almost untenable situation. I mean let’s look at this with a little common sense. Handshaking is meant for when you meet people for the first time…isn’t it? If it takes place every day it becomes a meaningless ritual especially if you’re shaking hands with people you don’t really like. It’s awkward enough as it is with half-handshakes, limp handshakes and the worst – the damp handshake. After that, you know them. No more need to shake germ-ridden urine-stained hands. As for kissing, I’m all for showing this type of physical affection to those females with whom I have a longstanding relationship. Typical examples would be family or close friends. Kissing women that I hardly know (or like!) EVERY MORNING is just too much for my sensitive soul.
I consequently breathed a huge sigh of relief when I finally waved goodbye to Belgium some years ago. It was then that I started work in Denmark. All was well until, horror of horrors, my Danish boss went on some weekend management enlightenment drum pounding hug-each-other retreat and, when he returned, insisted on shaking the hand of everyone in the office every morning! There were also his voluntary meditation sessions, but that’s another story. Thankfully Danish women aren’t in the habit of distributing physical affection to all and sundry so I was at least spared that horror. Now I’ve started a new contract in a different company in Denmark and, to my dismay and consternation – There are French people running the project!! Now I’m forced to shake hands with five or six keen French men every morning when I’m uncertain of where those hands have been on their way in to work from the airport. Again I’m grateful that the French women are keeping their distance or are opting only for the handshake and not the whole enchilada (so to speak). I thought I could tolerate the handshaking a few more months until the end of the contract, but enough was enough. I sent out an e-mail to the entire team informing them that I would no longer be an active participant in the handshaking club. This was received in much the same way as would the Queen if she farted during a royal reception – not that she would, of course. I received only one e-mail by way of reply from a colleague who considers himself to be the social secretary for the project. He informed me that sending the e-mail had been a ‘poor decision’ on my part. I replied by telling him politely to sod off and mind his own business.
I’m pleased to report that the hand shakers are still active every morning, but give me a wide berth. They call out ‘Good morning, Kevin’ from afar as one might to a gorilla in a cage that one would be too scared to go near in case it bit one’s bum off. In my book, it’s all about healthy boundaries. If we don’t respect our own boundaries we give away our power to others and live a lesser life as a result. However, as the satirist Dennis Miller always says: That’s just my opinion. I may be wrong.
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