When To Hug Someone. And Why Asians Don’t Always Hug

Hugging. Some of us like to be hugged, and some of us don’t.

I don’t mind being hugged. Don’t mind giving hugs either. Crushing bear hugs. Soft two-second hugs. Group hugs. One arm hugs. Whether we hug someone or not depends on how we feel about them. And how they feel about us.

Post-proposal. Marriage, hugs, and kisses are containers of happiness, warmth and trust | Weekly Photo Challenge: Containers.

Post-proposal. Marriage, hugs, and kisses are containers of happiness, warmth and trust | Weekly Photo Challenge: Containers.

We hug someone we barely know when we like them and feel like we can be friends or more. If we have a nice conversation going and maybe share a laugh hanging out with someone we don’t know well, we might hug them when saying hello or goodbye.

About a year ago I met a blogger friend from the States for the first time. He didn’t mind that I was late to our lunch because I got lost, and we talked non-stop while eating. We parted with a hug. No dramas. Hugging, a show of friendship.

It usually feels okay to hug someone we aren’t best friends with if we have something in common like school or work, and if we don’t hate each other’s guts. Each time I left a job, my colleagues thanked me for my work and hugged me on my last day. Hugging, a show of appreciation.

We might hug someone we know or don’t know when we share moments and emotions together – we probably don’t know what else to do. We hug to celebrate, hug our teammates when we win and strangers when our county scores goals at the World Cup. We hug to make someone feel better when they’re feeling down.

There’s not forgetting hugging those close to us when we see or leave them. Hugging, a show of love. But then again, not all the ones we love are big on hugs. And you can never be sure if that person we just met is okay with hugging.

For some of us, hugging is a special moment. We don’t hug every day and reserve our hugs for special someones. So when someone who we’re not best buds with hugs us, we might resist.

Some of us don’t hug too often because of cultural and religious reasons. In Asian cultures, getting touchy-feely with each other is frowned upon. In countries like Malaysia where thieves are around every corner, we’re wary of people touching us the slightest bit. Arms around us – too close for comfort.

Catching germs and getting dirty is another reason why some Asians aren’t keen on hugging. Being clean is something many of us pride ourselves upon, explaining why we like taking our shoes off at home. More than once I’ve heard my mum say, “Those gweilos hugging. So sweaty.”

Maybe some Asians shy away from hugging because of our nature to be shy. Because we’re respectful of personal space and physical distance.

Growing up, hugging was alien to me. Never saw my Chinese-Malaysian parents hugging each other when I was little. Out of spite my Caucasian classmates pushed me to the ground in the playground. My Asian classmates hid away studying. No one whom I could hug, and no one hugged me.

This changed when I moved back to Melbourne for university. On campus, many of my Asian and non-Asian friends were fond of greeting me with their arms around me. It felt odd. After a while, I decided to go along with this and realised hugging is…nice. Warmth between two bodies. Two people. Two hearts, so close.

My friends say I squeeze tight when I hug them. I suppose I’m generous with my hugs. Earlier this year, I was sitting in a shopping centre and a blonde girl about fourteen came up to me asking for directions. I pointed her the right way. Saying “Thank you”, she bent down and hugged me. Without thinking, I hugged her back. Hard.

When we hug, we love. We learn to give. And above all, we learn to trust.

Do you hug a lot? When do you hug?

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168 thoughts on “When To Hug Someone. And Why Asians Don’t Always Hug

  1. Interesting article. I’m big on hugs. I hug people a lot, mainly because attending a girls school it was common to hug all the time, hug to say hi, bye, see ya tomorrow, to congratulate someone…everything.

    Although there has been times when I’ve hugged someone and they have freaked out, turned red and said they “don’t do hugs”. For me, a hug is a greeting, perhaps its a European thing, where you kiss on the cheek and hug in greeting. To me, hugs are more than just showing affection 🙂

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    • “hugs are more than just showing affection” I think to a lot of people that is the case, or they just happen to think that way. Sometimes hugging a lot can give people the wrong impression – I hug girls a lot and because of that some guys have mistaken me for liking girls.

      I am sure those people who don’t like hugs appreciated your lovely hugging gesture. Turning a different shade of colour on the face sort of says they have been emotionally touched in some ways 🙂

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      • haha perhaps they are touched, or just plain creeped out…ah yes, well at my school, since everyone hugged, it wasn’t really a cause for concern or “wrong impression” ..but now that I’m no longer in highschool, I realised the hard way that not everyone is as quick to hug as I might be! But also on hugging girls, I find its almost like a handshake. You wouldn’t shake hands with a girl, so I hug instead 🙂

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        • I suppose it’s not surprising some people are creeped out by hugs because in a sense, hugs are crushing, suffocating and physically doesn’t go down well with those on the receiving end…bordering on the kiss of death if done the wrong way. What a morbid thought.

          Haha, the only time I’ve handshaked a girl was at an interview. Very formal way of greeting 😀

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          • haha kiss of death 😛 interesting was of putting it. I generally don’t hug very hard since I’m bony, so I go for the firm/secure hug haha

            Yes, don’t think I’ve ever shook hands with a woman. Only men..

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            • Yes, hugs are the kiss of death. You never really see it coming. Once a colleague at work hugged me hard (last day or something) and the next day my upper body ached 😀

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  2. I’m a hugger. I love giving hugs and being hugged. With most of my friends, hugging is our everyday greeting and farewell, it’s automatic and feels odd if we don’t.
    I love hugs.
    But I’m shy, and my being shy makes me apprehensive about hugging people that I may not know as well. Such apprehension leads to an awkward half hug because I’m not sure if they’re a hugger or not. I should try to be a bit more confident if I really want to hug someone and just do it!

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    • I get where you’re coming from, as a fellow shy person. Part of the problem lies with the person we want to hug – as you mentioned, they might not be huggers. The other part of the problem lies within us and the way we are.

      These days I just go for full-on hugs, the kind where it hits the person hard in the stomach…not easy if I don’t know the person well but it always makes the other person laugh whether they are a hugger or not.

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  3. Hi Mabel, I just googling found out this blog and i’m starting to read and understanding the contents. I’m a Chinese Malaysian. About some time I’ve been playing online games with not knowing friends. We chat a lot in chatting room. One day, she’s from Penang and decided to come to visit me at Ipoh. And i just said it’s OK that we can meet. I’m not a girl maniac or whatever. But once she arrive, i just give her one second soft hug for my appreciation of welcome. So like you said, being Asian hugging is too alien and fishy. But in my world, i just show my respect and honors. How do you feel or what do you think when someone that you first met and he give you a soft one second hug when in Asian? Because I don’t want she confused. Thx

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    • It’s great to hear you made connections playing online games. Always is nice to bond over something you have in common. It is an interesting question you have there. I suppose it really depends on how well you know that person, and how much that person trusts you. The more the person trusts you and see you as a good friend (regardless of race, whether you are Asian or not) I suppose a soft and quick hug wouldn’t come across as awkward. If you feel confused, you can talk about it with her 🙂

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  4. Growing up my Asian parents didn’t hug and show a lot of physical affection which is pretty common among Asian parents.

    I don’t really like to hug people a lot. It’s very weird to me. The only time where I hug people the most is when I go to church which I actually don’t mind at all. Hugging is nice.

    Hugging I feel like can be quite intimate and invasive.

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    • “Hugging I feel like can be quite intimate and invasive.” That is so true. When we hug someone, we touch skin on skin and some of us might be uncomfortable with that. I’m like you. I like hugging but I don’t hug people a lot – that is, I’m very selective of who I want to hug. Some people might take advantage of that…with their hands going all over the place…

      Liked by 1 person

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