I hug to the right. Am I hugging wrong?
September 21, 2019 12:29 PM   Subscribe

When I give someone a hug, I instinctively lean to my right. I was recently socially shamed for doing so, and told that I was doing it wrong. My question is whether there really is a standardized convention on which way to lean when non-romantically hugging someone.

Incident: At a party recently, while saying goodnight to everyone, I tried to give my cousin a hug. I leaned to my right and she leaned to her left, causing a near face-on-face collision. Since neither of us wanted to kiss the other, we recoiled. She screamed. Confused, I screamed. After we all laughed it off, the partygoers conducted a series of experiments to discover which way they instinctively lean while hugging. Consensus: left. Everyone at the party agreed that I had made a mistake, and that leaning to one's left while hugging is what normal people do. I was laughed at. It's possible that I may be a minor character in an episode of Seinfeld.

Full details: He/him pronouns for me. I usually hug with both of my arms at hugee's mid-upper back height, typically A-framish, or possibly bear-huggish with someone I know well. Right arm above left arm.

I'm aware that there may be regional variations. This incident took place in Vancouver, Canada. I note that we drive on the right here.

Secondary question: if no convention exists, what is the best way for huggers to silently agree on an alignment on the way in? First mover chooses?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow to Human Relations (37 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I grew up in the Seattle area, always to the left. I don't remember ever giving this any thought but I very rarely run into your situation.
posted by Odinhead at 12:33 PM on September 21, 2019

Now that I think about it, I hug to the left—but it would never occur to me to make a big deal about this with anyone who I thought was hugging “wrong.” Pick your battles, people.
“Everybody needs a hug... left or right...soft or tight... Everybody needs a hug.”
posted by bookmammal at 12:38 PM on September 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It's complicated. (Warning: layperson social science articles.)

I have certain friends who have always observed the practice of "heart-to-heart hugging", which always throws me off personally when I see them. Somehow I've never gotten used to it, and we always end up in a brief moment of hug-confusion as I retrain myself to hug on their preferred side, but we laugh about it. "Socially shamed" sounds like an extreme reaction to me.
posted by mykescipark at 12:39 PM on September 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

I hug to to the right, and I’m very confused about people even commenting on it. If you leaned even slightly left I am sure I’d accommodate you you without even really thinking about it.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:44 PM on September 21, 2019 [31 favorites]

I go with the flow and would guess that 90% of the hugs I participate in are to the left.
posted by Twinge at 12:49 PM on September 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

I grew up in a hugging family. Almost everyone in my family hugs to the left, except for one great uncle, who after you hug to the left, insists he needs another hug so it can be "heart to heart." I think he just does it so he can get two hugs from everyone, though.
posted by abeja bicicleta at 12:51 PM on September 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Always left, do quite a lot of signalling before going in for the hug (move body and head towards one side, raise arms, pause, then hug), virtually never crash, unless encountering the odd London sophisticate who prefers quick left then right cheek/air kisses and throws me right off.
posted by penguin pie at 1:13 PM on September 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I’ve never thought about this in my life. I think I just hug to whatever side is convenient when I’m going in for it. I do notice my left arm usually hugs lower and my right arm higher by the shoulder blade (because I’m a back patter and right-handed).
posted by sallybrown at 1:39 PM on September 21, 2019 [6 favorites]

left, I guess, but I tend to let the other person lead
posted by philip-random at 1:43 PM on September 21, 2019

What? You shake hands with your right, ergo you also hug from the right. Then again, anyone who has a problem with receiving a hug from the wrong side maybe has too few problems.
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:58 PM on September 21, 2019 [12 favorites]

Shaming a person, saying they do hugging wrong, making a huge fuss about which way you lean when hugging, are horrible, reprehensible ways to treat someone. I'm stunned that family members and/or friends would treat someone this way.
posted by theora55 at 2:10 PM on September 21, 2019 [11 favorites]

Yes, its to the left, and yes, it matters. I come from a culture that kisses on the cheek, and it's the same: everyone kisses on the left cheek first and then the right cheek. Going rogue messes up the whole system. I honestly dont want to accidentally kiss someone on the lips, or awkwardly meet in the middle for a hug.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 2:39 PM on September 21, 2019

Definitely a left hugger in the Vancouver area. The only times I've had that awkward face-butt situation was with Argentinian colleagues who went in for the cheek kiss and totally caught me off guard.
posted by cgg at 2:42 PM on September 21, 2019

I hug to the left. Thinking about it, I think its because I am right handed and put out my right hand to go around the other persons shoulder-ish area, if we are just doing a hello/goodbye type hug, so then to stay balanced, my head and body lean to the left.
posted by gaspode at 3:01 PM on September 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've always experienced hugging to the left. If someone started to lean the other way I think I'd be slightly thrown off, as in when you're walking down the street and both people try to get out of the way but head in the same direction.
posted by pinochiette at 3:03 PM on September 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm American and from a non-hugging family. While I don't mind hugging I'm not an instinctive hugger and I don't tend to initiate them. I usually end up going along with however the other person initiates it and adjusting as needed (do I need to tilt this way, or that way? do I go high or low with my arms? etc.). I never paid much attention to who went right and who went left, but I have a vague impression of both ways having happened more than once.

Multiple cheek-kissing, though, I have no idea what to do; I guess I'd just continue the same reactive policy.
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:10 PM on September 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

My social circle mostly leans right I think; it’s certainly my default. But I would never ever think to tell someone they’re “hugging wrong” if/when they lean left.

If someone starts to hug me first and they lean not-my-preferred-way I try to adjust to that. Occasionally there’s a little awkward dance of trying to figure out the hugging dynamics, same as you might have coming face-to-face with someone while walking and each trying to step aside but you both step in the same direction. Not a big deal, sometimes good for a laugh.

I’m in South-Eastern Ontario, Canada. I don’t come from a cultural background where cheek-kissing is common, and it isn’t common in my social circles.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 3:19 PM on September 21, 2019

Out of the hundreds of hugs I've given in my life I've never once leaned to the left.
posted by dgeiser13 at 3:24 PM on September 21, 2019

Left here. I'm now astonished that I've never experienced a hug collision.
posted by eirias at 3:31 PM on September 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Honestly, what the fuck. The idea that anyone ever goes into a hug in anything more than a panicked mode of improvisation heading for whichever side seems safest is a total shock to me. I'm going to have a lie down.
posted by ominous_paws at 3:35 PM on September 21, 2019 [60 favorites]

I do think hugging left is more common, because if you're shaking hands (or about to shake hands) and then get pulled into a hug, it will be a hug on the left. And if someone spends a lot of time in that handshake-hug gray area (like a local politician who shakes a lot of hands and starts hugging supporters, or when regular churchgoers pass the peace) it becomes a habit. When non-politician non-churchgoers do the awkward dance of which way to hug with these folks, and they end up hugging left, the contagion spreads.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 4:31 PM on September 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

I can't tell left and right to save my life. If someone I want to hug wants to hug me, all directions are fine.
posted by bile and syntax at 4:39 PM on September 21, 2019 [8 favorites]

I hug right. Growing up, for six years I went to a summer camp in Virginia where hugging is a major, major part of camp culture. There was a technique session on the first day of each session (no a-frames!). Directionality was never discussed.
posted by jocelmeow at 5:02 PM on September 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

And as for who chooses if there's a conflict, I can only really say how I think about this in my own experience. If there's a significant height difference, the shorter person chooses, because they're the one who has to decide where to stick their face. If it's two people with breasts, as a person with breasts I'd probably defer to anyone bustier than me for similar reasons of comfort.
posted by jocelmeow at 5:17 PM on September 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

U.S. I volunteer as a greeter at my UU congregation, which is a huggy bunch, so basically once a month I tend to hug 20-50 people varying from close friends to mild acquaintances. I always lean left (though I've never thought about it till this question). I've never had a collision.

However, I also tend to do the female head-tilt to the left and almost constantly, so maybe I'm telegraphing hug direction by head-tilt direction? Maybe some of us are picking up on head-tilting and subconsciously aligning our hugs with that?
posted by lazuli at 6:15 PM on September 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wow, I'm really surprised by all the left huggers! I hug to the right, as has almost everyone I've ever hugged. There are some folks who insist on 'heart hugs' (to the left) but that's been few and far between.

Now I'm going to switch and see if it's just because people are following my lead! I always thought I followed others in hugging but perhaps not...
posted by ananci at 8:37 PM on September 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

In my family we hug one direction, then the other. All hugs are good hugs!
Now for the important stuff -- how do you hug your dog or cat?
They are all good hugs!
posted by TrishaU at 4:01 AM on September 22, 2019

What? You shake hands with your right, ergo you also hug from the righ

I don't think so. Ponder it for a second. Slow motion visualize shaking hands. Your body orientation is right shoulder forward left back, bodies offset slightly to the left so hands are in the middle. If most walk up addressing subtley accomodates thos interaction then a hug would naturally be to the left.

also fuck those people for shaming you. What terrible people.
posted by chasles at 5:43 AM on September 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

I don't hug much, but when I do it's usually to the left. I think because... my head is always tilted to the left just a little bit. So if you are coming at me for a hug, it already seems I'm going to go to the left.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:16 AM on September 22, 2019

I keep to the right when driving, I keep to the right while riding my bike, I shake hands with my right hand, I tilt my head to the right when leaning in for kiss with my sweetie, I hug to the right.

But for the love of pete, I would never shame someone for hugging in a different direction!
posted by brookeb at 2:14 PM on September 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wow, I had no idea that apparently everyone side-hugs. I come from a very demonstrative family and we all hug heart-to-heart; I actually have always felt kind of weirded out when someone that I know and like well enough to HUG gives me a side hug. It's like I'm being rebuffed, or that maybe that person doesn't like me as much as I like them.

This has shattered my whole worldview.
posted by fiercecupcake at 4:21 PM on September 22, 2019

For me "hugging to the left" is not a side hug. It's just that I hinge my upper body to the left slightly while hugging someone straight-on so that we don't hit our faces into each other.
posted by lazuli at 6:15 PM on September 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Victoria, but grew up in Ontario. I definitely hug to the left (i.e. chests facing one another, and each looking over the other person's left shoulder), but that may be a result of partner dancing. I honestly have no idea if I preferred a particular side before I got dance embrace burned into my muscle memory, and I'm sure I never thought about it much.

I've not had any collisions, and side-mismatches don't stand out in my memory--though I'm sure they must have happened, given the answers in this post. I'd guess that what I probably do in that situation is the same sort of shuffle adjustment I do when walking towards someone on the sidewalk. If one person makes a clear choice first that's what we go with, otherwise test and correct until you agree.
posted by bethnull at 8:00 PM on September 22, 2019

WTF. I hug whichever way the surrounding items, furniture/car doors/airplane jetways/coffins/whatever, dictate that I hug to give folks the best experience. I am very, very confused that some people might somehow label that as 'doing it wrong'.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:41 PM on September 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wow, I'm really surprised by all the left huggers! I hug to the right, as has almost everyone I've ever hugged. There are some folks who insist on 'heart hugs' (to the left) but that's been few and far between.

A heart-to-heart hug would be one where each person leans to their right, though, unless we're visualising very different things.
posted by lokta at 4:43 AM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't have a side, except in the aforementioned hug/handshake situation, which veers left. Otherwise it depends on the other person. Now if you really want to get into it, next time see who goes under/over.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:19 PM on September 23, 2019

I have literally no idea in which direction I hug. I think I move to the right and press more of my left side on the other person? I also think my last hug was sitting on the couch with my husband, so I still leaned to the right.
posted by RainyJay at 9:01 PM on September 23, 2019

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