Hugging and Handshaking in The Times of Corona

The number of jokes, forwards and memes surrounding coughing and sneezing during this pandemic is countless. Perhaps it’s good to hold on to a little bit of humour in such dark times. And if this wasn’t enough, there’s enough banter around touching, hugging and kissing. We laughed but on further introspection, how this virus is also pushing us towards the ultimate test of adaptation. From cancelling those summer vacations to work almost at a standstill. But if you think about it, we’ve already been adapting many such situations in one way or the other. 

But what about the small ways we’re trying to modify our behaviour. In ways that it almost seems...inhuman. Friends aren’t hugging each other anymore, colleagues aren’t shaking hands. We’re running to clean up the moment we come into contact with anything, most of all another human being. Are we really used to this? A life with no touch? And how much are we adapting to this surreal alternate form of living? Is touch really important? 

We read this article which answered some of these questions. It says - Why is touch so important? The emotional impact of social touch is ingrained in our biology. A touch on the arm when comforting someone, for example, is often what shows that we really care. 

We thought about this from the perspective of us as immigrants/internationals living in Sweden. We have observed how on one hand Swedes might seem very distant, but on the other, so warm that touch is an extremely important aspect of their interactions. Our meetings with people always progress from handshakes to hugs to even high-fives. The etiquette around hugging has been quite fascinating as well when someone asks you - Is it okay to hug you? So now, when one is supposed to distant themselves from others, it is quite a common sight to spot a lot of awkwardness in the air, with people not knowing what the appropriate way to greet each other is anymore. 

Coming back to the article, another interesting point to read was that if life continues the way we know it today, touch might become a negative association in our minds. It says “The longer this goes on, the more likely that an association will be formed between social touch and a sense of negativity. People may eventually forget all about the virus, but still, be wary of social touch without knowing why. This is because negative associations often create more readily available memories for people than positive associations.”

This might seem quite extreme at this point, but it’s important to recognize how behaviour adapts and learns without us even recognizing it. How sometimes you do something and think - Where did that come from? And this we can vouch for after living in a new country for many years. 

Read the full article mentioned earlier here -