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March 7, 2015

Hey, Americans: Don't You Guys Touch Anymore?




Cheer up. Could be worse. Could be the old heterosexual edition of Travolta.


Several years ago, I returned to the Muggins homestead in Mortonville, Illinois, Great Satan, whereupon my perpetually shrinking mother lurched at me for the traditional Hug of Greeting.

My custom of many years was to make this trip every late summer, but for some forgotten reason this trip was the first in two years, and I must confess that I had lost the muscle memory for the Hug of Greeting — could no longer segue smoothly into the customary series of motions.

I awkwardly encircled the crumbling matriarch in my arms as I felt her bony hands meet at the scruff of my neck. Smiling almost diabolically, she began pulling my head straight toward hers. All well and good, but just as I was expecting our faces to veer off of collision course so that our chins would come to rest on each other’s shoulders, that did not happen. Instead, the maternal tractor beam kept my head on a direct collision course with hers, and more to the point, my lips with hers.

My God, we are about to kiss! On the lips! was all I could think before suddenly we were, in fact, kissing on the lips, at which point my panicked thoughts shifted to Do we do tongues, too? But by that time, the tractor beam had released me and I was being informed that I was too thin.

After I’d broken free and observed a male sibling effortlessly perform the HoG up to and including the kiss, it all came back to me. Yes, we do kiss the matriarch on the lips upon setting foot in the ancestral home following a long absence. We do that! We always have! We are, after all, Americans!

We siblings don’t lip-kiss each other, or each other’s spouses or children, though there may be cheek-kissing in male-female combinations. We are not, after all, barbarians or Frenchmen. And for the record, we never, ever bring the tongue into play with the matriarch. Not even to help her dislodge peanut brittle.

All of this seems a moot point now that the matriarch has been dead and buried these fourteen months, her lips having long since passed their expiration date — and the ancestral home, site of so much hugging and kissing, sold off to boot. But that moment of my uncertainty has come back to me with a number of recent “news” items regarding the way Americans touch each other - or rather, don't.

Take this, for example.

And this.

And this.

And, all right, yes, pretty much everything Vice President Biden has ever done.

For the record, I’ve lived my life in Japan since I was twenty-three. Over here, we’re the anti-Europeans: we lip-kiss only at gunpoint. I don’t even lip-kiss Mrs. Muggins the Spouse, which is why I was taken aback, after a two-year hiatus, when the Mrs. Muggins who bore me sprang that forgotten mouth-mumba on me.

It was 1979 when I left you, Americans. Some of you may not remember, but in those days, you were one touchy-feely lot. One of your top five TV shows was Dallas, a show that specialized in intra-family kissing—then again, maybe not the best example to prove my point.

My point is, nonsexual parent-child kissing in America was not very long ago a norm. True, cheek kissing has always been somewhat more common than lip-kissing, as we can see from this Wikipedia page, and let me pause here to point out that Cheek Kissing has its own Wikipedia page while I still do not. Anyway, kissing of one sort or another between parents and children is as American as sinking into Middle Eastern quagmires.

Now, all of a sudden, a man is widely denounced as creepy for giving his own daughter a quick peck just after winning a Super Bowl. Same deal for an old-school politician who still goes in for old-school touchy-feeliness. Now, it’s perfectly natural for us Japanese to cluck our tongues at all this schmooziness. But you’re Americans, for God’s sake. What the hell happened to you?

Americans, hey, it’s your country. If you collectively wake up one morning and decide you want to go all Ayatollah on the rules for touching and kissing each other, that’s fine. But for older gentlemen like Biden, Belichick and me who grew up in a more tactile age, it would be nice if you posted some guidelines, like “Send us your huddled masses yearning to breathe free without lips all over their faces” or something. You do not get to just up and change the rules overnight without notification.

That is rude. Very, very rude.