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CRAIG BROWN: Are you a hugger? No me neither!

President Biden is, by all accounts, extraordinarily tactile. When he shakes hands, he employs both hands, one to shake, the other to wrap around the hands already shaking.

Doubtless if he had a third hand to spare, he would use it to grasp your shoulder, or pat you on the back.

He likes to stand exceptionally close to the person he is addressing. ‘Biden is such a close talker,’ notes one of his biographers, ‘that he occasionally bumps his forehead into you mid-chat.’

President Trump was said to loathe shaking hands, to the extent that he used to carry wet-wipes around with him to ward off infections, even before the coronavirus hit.

For the past 50 years, human beings had been drawing closer and closer together. Where once a quick, single handshake would suffice, at some point a Biden-style double-handshake became obligatory, and before long the double-handshake had turned into a hug

But President Biden enjoys physical intimacy. Social distancing will not have come naturally to him. For close to a year, hugging has been out of the question, almost to the point of illegality.

I’ve noticed that he still goes in for a little bit of jokey elbow-bumping (as do other politicians, such as Boris Johnson), even though most people have quietly shelved it, finding it too awkward and bothersome.

Others have welcomed the freedom from hugging and kissing. In fact, one might almost say they have embraced it.

It is still considered bad taste to credit lockdown with any advantages, but those of us in the standoffish community have found a good deal to appreciate.

For the past 50 years, human beings had been drawing closer and closer together. Where once a quick, single handshake would suffice, at some point a Biden-style double-handshake became obligatory, and before long the double-handshake had turned into a hug.

Kissing followed a similar trajectory. Fifty years ago, pecks on the cheek were exchanged only between intimate friends and members of slightly hippy-ish families; anything more prolonged or adventurous was considered far too Continental. 

Then, at some time in the early 1980s, the double-kiss, one on each cheek, became all the rage.

Churches, once considered safe spaces for the timid, were at the forefront of the touching revolution. The words ‘Let us offer each other the sign of peace’ came to act as a starting pistol, a signal for the chummy to lunge at everyone around them. 

Meanwhile, the diffident and the timid would bow their heads, shut their eyes and start praying for the gift of invisibility.

Around the turn of this century, everyone started kissing, regardless of gender or sexuality. The playwright and diarist Simon Gray first clocked this new tendency when two groups of theatricals bumped into each other in a West End restaurant.

‘There was a lot of kissing,’ he noted in his diary, ‘the women kissing the women, the men kissing the women, and muddled into all this, the men kissing the men — some of us were heterosexual, but still we ran into each other’s arms, rubbed cheeks, kissed, as we made growling sounds of pleasure and love.’

He imagined that this new fashion for man hugs must have blown in from New York or Russia.


More from Craig Brown for the Daily Mail...

‘I don’t really like it, really rather hate it, especially when they have beards, they’re rough on my skin, and probably full of food and insects, and they’re smelly, but I see no way of repelling them unless I take to dribbling into them or blowing my nose over them, and word gets round that I’m to be avoided,’ he complained.

This new tendency had been going from strength to strength, but came to a sudden end last spring, when the corona-virus struck.

Within a few weeks, we all started behaving like an extreme sect of puritans, shying away from any sort of physical contact, donning elaborate face-shields and keeping an elaborate distance, even turning our backs on strangers on a footpath as they nervously shuffled past.

Those who wanted to show affection were forced to do so in showy mimes, which then took on new variants as the months rolled by. These days, I’ve noticed men and women greeting each other with cartoonish hugging gestures, even though they are two metres apart.

Once the coronavirus eventually disappears, as surely it must, will we all return to our old touchy-feely selves? Somehow, I doubt it. Perhaps it’s just me, but in these dark days I suspect quite a few of us have felt a secret sense of liberation from the need to hug and kiss.

President Biden may soon be back to bumping foreheads, but the rest of us will want to take it easy.

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