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April 13, 2005

Gender Interactions and Inconsistencies

Although most people know me for my critical outlook on some of Berkeley's least desirable characters (i.e., Berkeley bums and hoodlums), when I'm not noticing the worthlessness of these bastards, I often spend a lot of time simply observing (normal) people. In this entry, I'll be discussing my latest observations on social interaction, namely the rather profound gender-based inconsistencies in forms of greeting and acknowledgment.

The thought to pay more specific attention to gender-based interactions first occurred to me last week, when I was walking between classes, and encountered an individual definitely in the bottom tier of the relationship pyramid. Honestly, I could not even remember his name clearly and definitely have no recollection as to why we know one another. Yet, without even thinking, I stopped, exchanged a few irrelevant sentences, and then, shook his hand. This got me thinking - I don't even know this person's name, yet I shook his hand; why is that and moreover, why do I never see any women do this? This lead to an even bigger question: how exactly do women greet each other?

The next day, at lunch time, while on my perch at Doe Library, I decided to observe the plethora of routine interactions that take place on Memorial Glade. As I had suspected, there was a definite difference in how men and women interact. Since I can say with a fair degree of confidence that I am aware of how men interact with men, my experimental observations were merely to reconfirm my own experiences. Inevitably, when two guys met on Memorial Glade, one of the following two things elapsed:

  1. A simple handshake was exchanged at the start of the conversation, and if lasting longer than a few minutes, a parting handshake as well.
  2. Each guy seemed to think the other knew his secret handshake, but neither knew either and what ended up happening was a set of awkward movements that sort of resembled each guy slapping the other.

As you might have guessed, the type of interaction between men was heavily correlated with age, and not surprisingly, the awkwardness (and utter failure of handshakes) increased with the number of popped collars in the equation.

With men-women and women-women greetings, both of which exhibited similar traits, the results were less predictable, perhaps because I'm not a woman. Notably lacking was the handshake (secret or otherwise) and often, all physical contact was simply replaced by a weird hand-waving motion. Many interactions between only women also involved the proverbial fake hug, (i.e., chest in, hips/ass out), described quite well in one of the earlier Seinfeld episodes. Furthermore, in opposite sex interactions, the two parties seemed to stand much further apart while conversing than in single sex interactions.

So, what's the point, you might ask? What conclusions can I draw based on these erratic results? Three come to mind. First, men are stupid and secret handshakes really need to be done away with. If you get it wrong, you look like a klutz and even if you get it right, you're still a dork - it's a lose-lose situation. Second, someone needs to come up with a better greeting between sexes; the weird hand-waving motion is almost as awkward as the botched secret handshake. Third, for women, it's probably likely that whoever you are hugging does not want to hug you, but feels compelled out of some sense of societal convention, or perhaps simply pity (sorry, had to throw that one in there). This is the only way to explain the high frequency of fake hugs.

Sorry to disappoint you all who were expecting a rant. I'll try to pick a fight with a mindless bureaucrat on campus soon and get back to you.


I hate those secret handshakes. I always have to guess, and I'm usually wrong. Once I guessed fist pump, while the guy I was talking to wanted to do a regular handshake. He pointed his finger at me as he turned to walk away and I ended up pumping his finger tip instead of his fist.

There's also that head nod thing you guys do... where you raise your head up an inch or so instead of waving. I've seen this with both in male to male and male to female interactions. I suppose that's the secret headshake?

don't forget the semi-hug: when guys grab opposite hands, pull in, and thump each other once on the back. or the awkward sideways, one-armed hug

Good call on the semi-hug. I almost forgot about that one - 10:1 odds it's also highly correlated with popped collars.

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