WaPo’s Richard Cohen starts his latest piece by saying that he “loves” all of his readers. He then launches into a sermon about how we are a nation of phonies because we drop formalities or, as Cohen writes, we’ve “done away with the intermediary steps of feelings less than love.” He says it’s not enough to like someone or “hold them in some esteem.”
While I eventually found myself agreeing with Cohen, he got off to a weird start when he writes that “this all started some years back” when he called an airline company and a woman introduced herself using only her first name. Then, things get a little weird.
“An agent answered the phone and said, ‘Hello, this is Debbie.’ Not Miss Smith or Mrs. Smith. Debbie. What was I to say? Could I say, ‘Hi, Debbie, this is Mr. Cohen.’ Nosiree. Informal must be met by informal. ‘Hi, Debbie,’ I found myself saying, ‘This is . . . ,’ I paused. Should I say Richie? How about Dickie? I stuck to just a shred of formality: ‘Richard.’ What made it worse was the suspicion that ‘Debbie’ was not Debbie at all, that it was her nom de phone. But I was, then and forever more, Richard.”
We’ve all had those customer service phone calls where people introduce themselves by their first name, where they are not allowed to give their last name, but has anyone ever been uncomfortable about it? I haven’t, but I’m not a paranoid maniac.
After that episode, Cohen actually starts making more sense. He writes that everyone wants to HUG these days.
“Now you get hugged and have to hug in return. People I have just met for dinner hug me when it’s over. I liked the handshake. It was manly: Be firm, look the other guy in the eye. This is what I was taught as a kid, and I was taught, further, that you could take a man’s measure by his handshake.”
There are no words for the first time that someone you barely know wraps their hooks around your neck like you’re old friends. Plus, after it happens once, you’re on a permanent “hug” status with that person. It’s hugs EVERY time you see them from there on out.
Are we becoming a nation of phonies? Probably. And in a town like Washington where a “friend source” is real and rampant, most of us can relate. But, maybe Mr. Cohen can lay off the paranoia a little bit. I don’t think there are a lot of men who are itching to give him hugs and kisses just to make him uncomfortable. When it comes to how friendly you should be with someone, I rely on what my grandmother once told me: “Don’t bro me if you don’t know me.”