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  • Writer's pictureDavid Mathews

A touching story

I don’t mind a hand on my arm, as such. I’m not averse to touch, happy to feel a bare hand on bare skin, in the right place at the right time, if I may put it that way. But in the restaurant where I work, your hand around my upper arm was presumptuous.

You were outgoing. That’s fine, don’t get me wrong. Too often people hardly see me, never mind acknowledge me. But your gesture was not so much cordiality as an expression of condescension, not mutual as in a handshake. When shaking hands, the convention is that one person offers and the other accepts the contact; you do not grab the other person. Should I have reciprocated by patting your hand as it rested on my arm, or stroking your face, your need of a shave notwithstanding? I don’t think so. In a lap dancing club maybe, but not at The Ivy. You would have seen that as brazen, wouldn’t you, because you were the customer, and I was the provider of service?

How might you understand this?

The French are known for the kiss on both cheeks. (It can take an infernal age for everyone to kiss everyone else if the group is of even moderate size, but that is a separate matter.) The kiss, you must realise, is not employed for a first meeting. That necessitates a handshake. Kisses presume too much; for kisses you have to progress to acquaintanceship at least. Some degree of egalité is necessary too, if the kissing is to be relaxed. Children are treated differently. They are often obliged to be kissed by friends of their parents who are complete strangers to them. This is not all bad. Children get used to acknowledging unfamiliar adults, and learn to do so unprompted, which makes for a good deal of civility about the place.

But you were not a friend of my mother, and I was not a French infant, I was a grown-up. I was your waitress, serving food. For what it matters, I am also researching a PhD in cosmology.

Should I have said this? Maybe. But my standing facing you for a full minute threw you, didn’t it? I meant it to be instructive, but I don’t think you got that. You assumed I was being haughty, getting above myself.

I caught your conversation later.

‘What did I do?’ you said to your partner and your friends. You looked flummoxed.

They stalled. If you ask me, their problem wasn’t finding the right words, but summoning the courage to voice them. When they did speak, your partner mainly, you scoffed, then sulked.

But what happened after that? I did not hear, being busy with other tables, but something impelled you to give me such a large tip that I thought I might pay off my student loan.

‘See you again,’ you said, by now quite unabashed.

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