One of the few things funnier than Shami Chakrabarti’s speech (scroll down here) at the Political Studies Association annual dinner was the sight of a succession of men kissing her, politely but clumsily, on each cheek, as they received awards for excellent scholarship. Women received awards too, but they generally had the greeting down to a fine art. It raised, by far, the most important issue of the annual conference for me: how should I greet female colleagues? Men are easy. You shake their hands. In some cases, you get a bone cruncher, but that’s just physical rather than social discomfort. The same goes, almost always, for women I meet as colleagues. However, on a small number of occasions, we hug. I thought I had solved this problem by simply hugging the same people each time. As long as I know what we’re doing, I’d happily greet someone in any way they like. I’d even high 10 someone, up high and down low, and then the bit round the back, if I knew it was always going to be that way. Yet, things change: you sometimes miss your window to hug some people (awkward) and, on very rare occasions (at least for me) you hug someone spontaneously. It’s a fraught situation. So, drawing on historical institutionalism, I propose the Shami Chakrabarti Greeting Someone at a Political Studies Conference Rule, which comes in two parts:
1. The default rule should be handshakes all round, at a Dutch (not Swedish) level of strength and eye contact. Or, if you’re Scottish, it’s OK to say ‘alright?’ in a slightly too loud voice.
2. If, at a critical juncture, you’ve hugged in the past, the default should be that you hug each time you meet, for the rest of your lives. Back slap optional.