Tactility and Culture: Holding Hands

I said to one of my friends the other day, “You know something I’ve noticed you’re great at?  Holding hands.”

And she is.  She takes people’s hands quite naturally, with no awkwardness, and does it with anybody she’s close with.  Sometimes hand-holding can just feel weird—there’s a weighted self-consciousness to taking hands, and then the hand-holding might go on for too long, and it starts to get uncomfortable but it seems offensive to let go.  Her hand-holding, on the other hand, is entirely organic, from the time one of us takes the other’s hand to the time one of us lets go in the course of casual movement and conversation.

When I said that, she knew what I meant right away, and explained that it had to do with her growing up in Egypt.  “Everyone holds hands in Egypt,” she told me.  “Not just couples, but friends.  Two male friends who aren’t gay and aren’t a couple will walk down the street holding hands, and it’s perfectly normal.”  She explained that she thought the reason for it was that everything was so busy and crowded and fast there—“It’s not that street lights don’t exist, they are just . . . ignored”—and with cars and bicycles and people coming from all directions all the time, it’s easy to become separated from a conversation partner unless you’ve taken each others’ arms or hands.

I’ve written about cross-cultural hugging before—I love discussing the cultural differences in social interaction; it’s fascinating to me.

2 thoughts on “Tactility and Culture: Holding Hands

  1. InMyBook

    It is true both verbal and nonverbal human communication is fascinating, especially when observing cultural differences. Americans are generally uncomfortable with touching someone of the same sex, but it is quite different in some other cultures. I think in Arab (or at least predominantly Islam) cultures, the sexes are segregated with varying degrees of rigidity. So people of the same sex feel comfortable touching and hand holding, and it is without sexual connotations. I recall seeing a photo of President Bush walking hand-in-hand with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia some years back. I don’t think it has much to do with the crowding and a fast pace of life, as I have observed in other congested, hectic places like Hong Kong and Manhattan, people of the same sex are not hand holding as a result.

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