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Hugging Etiquette Basics

Updated on May 24, 2009

There are those that are huggers and those that are not. I have to admit I am in the last category, however I am not as "anti-hugging" as I used to be. In my travels I have definitely found that in some geographic locations hugging is just more normalized and more common, while in others it is not. While I don't have any hard and fast evidence or statistics, it seems to me the farther south you get the more common hugging is, especially between non-family members. Hugging just isn't done in social or family situations, more and more I am seeing hugging at business meetings, community gatherings and even random acts of hugging whenever and wherever.

If you are a hugger, and I mean that only in the most appropriate way, there are some basic hugging rules that really need to be followed.

Tree Hugging: Gotta Love It

Rule #1 – Personal Space Boundaries

Huggers often have very small personal space boundaries. Personal space is the invisible area around your body that you don't want to have invaded, especially by someone you don't know or don't like. For most people living in what is considered a western civilization, personal space is approximately a circle of about 20 inches around the body. For some of us this boundary can extend several feet. Huggers have to realize that coming into someone's personal space is downright stressful, so perhaps watch how the individual is viewing your approach and don't just leap right next to another person.

Personal space can vary based on any number of factors. This can include your profession, your life experiences and your physical location. Of course how well you know the person approaching can also affect how comfortable or uncomfortable with that individual getting into your protected territory.

Rule #2 Personal Hygiene

Not to be too obvious, but sometimes there are really good reasons why someone shouldn't be close to someone else. I absolutely detest when someone that has been outside in the hot summer sun suddenly wants to come up and give a hug. Maybe if they would do it with their arms down it might be better, but somehow this never happens.

Although the old sniff test is rarely something huggers seem to use, please do it frequently and drop back to a handshake or a simple "Hi" if you think you don't pass.

Rule #3 The Two Second Rule

In any type of social situation where people are mingling and greeting, it can be very embarrassing to end up with the hugger that is in it for the long haul. If you really must hug, follow a simple two second rule. As soon as your arms wrap around the other person start counting – 1 and 2 –then release and step at least one pace back. Not only does a short but meaningful hug show your affection but it also stops raised eyebrows from other members of the group. In addition the stepping back really helps those of us with personal boundary issues.

Rule #4 Don't Fake People Out With The Handshake Trick

This one is common and may not be a conscious trick on the part of the hugger, but it seems to be used an awful lot. This starts with the hugger, acting like a handshaker, approaching you with his or her hand out. As soon as you make hand contact, they pull you, often very forcibly, into a hug. Now it may be just my impression, but huggers really seem to delight in this devious little trick. If you are going to hug, at least be woman or man enough to put your arms out so the rest of us have time to duck, dodge or prepare. 

Rule #5 Hug Your Family And Loved Ones Often

Just to clear the air, hugging is a great way to show affection and love for your kids, family and dear friends. A hug is a wonderful way to offer support, love, caring and friendship, but it does need to be used with care, especially with people you don't know!

A Really Great Hug Is Worth A Million Words


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    • profile image

      Byamukama Benedicto 5 years ago

      Africa is different. People rarely hug family members.

      They do it to friends and lovers.

      Agape love as well

    • profile image

      Dave Scott 6 years ago

      Hugging can be a problem, people can turn a hug into a attemp to lift you off the ground as well intentioned but inapropriate show of their strength. Or you can have a situation where a person might try and teach you a lesson with a prolonged or overly hard hug because they harbour resentment or dislike you or some other reason. This can happen with hand shakes too.

      There's a need to be careful with hugging. Especially when alcohol is invlved. If you do enough hugging you'll eventually have a problem of some kind.

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi Winder-Adams 6 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      James, DivaDeluxe and Funkster,

      Thanks for your comments! Ah all the problems with something as simple as a hug.

    • profile image

      James 6 years ago

      Yep it's a southern thing. I don't even think about it it just happens. I hug almost everybody I meet for the first time. And family gets about a 7 second hug instead of 2 seconds

    • profile image

      DivaDeluxe 6 years ago

      I will hug close friends and family members, but I am in this very sticky situation at work where this one woman (the touchy-feely-huggy type I like to call her) is always wanting to hug me. If I'm having a bad day, or to say thank you for something, or at the end or start of the year to wish me happy holidays.

      I don't like her. I'll talk to her, no problem. But she is not the type of person I will willingly befriend. And she smells funny too. Not bad BO, but her perfume. I dislike the smell and feel nauseous whenever she walks into my office, or even just walks past and I catch a whiff of it...

      Problem is, I don't know how to politely tell her that I really don't want to hug her. Because an old colleague of mine will often drop by for a quick visit and I will then hug him. Difference here is, he is a friend to me aswell, not just "someone I happen to share an office space with" - He's gay but still. It's different and will be awkward if she saw me hugging him while I tell her that I don't think hugs are appropriate in the workplace. And she is very sensitive too, and I have this way of having things come out the wrong way, so no doubt feelings will be hurt.

      Ah well, just happy to see that I'm not the only one with a biiiiig personal bubble!

    • profile image

      funkster 6 years ago

      I just hugged my dad, and he said the cuddling needs to stop, I need to get a girlfriend.

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi Winder-Adams 7 years ago from Western Canada and Texas


      Thanks for the sick huggers rule, that is an important one for sure. Appreciate your comment.

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi Winder-Adams 7 years ago from Western Canada and Texas


      I am not much of a hugger either, kind of freaks me out when someone approaches with arms wide open - unless I know them of course.

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi Winder-Adams 7 years ago from Western Canada and Texas


      Thanks for your comment and your great example how rules are made to be broken!

    • profile image

      yve 7 years ago

      Ha!!! I loved your article! Okay, I'm a hugger from the southwest with no apologies :) over the years I've realized its most definitely a cultural and geographic thing. The further south the more hugging. Its kinda fun to watch northerners get weirded out with huggers and the overly friendly huggers (even if it is a side hug). Gotta add one thing to your list--sickies. Some forget the "I won't hug you cuz I'm sick rule". That rule always makes it okay to 'just say no'.

    • profile image

      KAEvans 7 years ago

      I myself am very much a hugger. I know that there are certain ppl out there that aren't and I'm ok with that. But I know that different hugs have different meanings. I thought about your 2 second rule and realized that I do that without thinking. Yea me! ;) I was talking with a coworker a few weeks ago about personal contact in the office and my rule is, there is no contact because I don't want anyone watching to get the wrong idea. He loved my rule. However I broke my rule this week cause I had a coworker from a different office come in that I have never met but I am good friends with. He walked in the office and I didn't even think about it, I gave him a huge hug.

      Thanks for the hub, it was helpful. :)

    • profile image

      evans 7 years ago

      i don't like it when someone who is not my girl hugs me and i dont like other men hugging my girl

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi Winder-Adams 7 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      Thanks Becky. More huggers in the south, I would definitely agree. That is a good point about hugging from the side, keeps it friendly and not uncomfortable!

    • profile image

      Becky 7 years ago

      I grew up in the south and hugs are definitely acceptable...AS LONG is short, no tight hugs, women should hug men from the side or a quick front hug with not chest touching.

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi Winder-Adams 7 years ago from Western Canada and Texas


      Thanks for the comment. Yes, there are really strange moments with people you meet sometimes. I think you can simply let go and step back when you are uncomfortable, especially when the hug is so inappropriate.

    • profile image

      Suzan 7 years ago

      Thank you for clarifying the 2 second rule. A friend of mine - who barely knows my husband hugged him - full body - like her life depended on it for a good 10 seconds at church. Made me super uncomfortable. He has Aspergers and didn't know what to do with it. Hugged until she let go. The two second rule is a good one. I'll share it with him. I've already shared that it's OK to break free from the grip. It will let her know he's not comfortable. Weird.

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi Winder-Adams 7 years ago from Western Canada and Texas


      It really is much more common in the US than Canada as well. We don't do the kiss on the cheek much either, but I know it is very common in Europe. Interesting how different traditions develop. Thanks for you comment!

    • invita profile image

      invita 7 years ago from Tampa, FL

      Being European, this was a bit of an adjustment when i first moved to the US. However in Europe people kiss each other on the cheek much more.

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi Winder-Adams 7 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      Thanks Charlee. Remember that everyone needs a good hug so you just keep doing what you do!

    • profile image

      Charlee  7 years ago

      Aww I'm such a hugger being around people who aren't make me feel so uncomfortable :( but articles like this help a lot even if i'd rather give the whole world a big hug I'd rather not make anyone uncomfortable. The two second rule, very useful!

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi Winder-Adams 8 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      Thanks electricsky and I certainly agree with you. It is very common here to hug hello or a greeting as well as good bye, which is something I was less familiar with before I moved to the south.

    • electricsky profile image

      electricsky 8 years ago from North Georgia

      I never thought much about hugging.

      I think it is usually an emotional thing. The more emotional the person, the more they hug, usually at good bye time.

      People full of emotions tend to hug good bye.

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi Winder-Adams 8 years ago from Western Canada and Texas


      Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Seems more people are selective huggers than I thought!

    • profile image

      Deanna Wilson 8 years ago be honest, I'm not a big fan of hugging. I'm willing to hug close friends and family, but I find it quite awkward to hug aquaintances and other people who I barely know. Thanks for the article!

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi Winder-Adams 8 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      Thanks Peggy. The more I travel the more I am convinced it is a southern thing!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I reserve hugs for family and close friends. I also agree with you that it seems to be more prevalent in the South than in the North part of the USA. I laughed at some of the more obvious tips of the sniff test. LOL

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi Winder-Adams 9 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      Thanks Julie-Ann - I will be sure to shake hands if we ever have the chance to meet!

    • Julie-Ann Amos profile image

      Julie-Ann Amos 9 years ago from Gloucestershire, UK

      Oh hun I'm not a hugger either! It must be genetic. What a lovely hub - thanks!


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