I have been to two conferences in the past two days. The first one was in Amsterdam, the second one in Barcelona. At the first one, people would just introduce themselves and maybe we would shake hands. There would also be some good 50 cm between us while we spoke. That was good, and I felt relaxed and at ease.
In Barcelona, it was all totally different. I would be introduced to someone, and unless I was quick enough to lift my hand and make it clear that I would only shake hands, that person would be cheek-kissing and/or hugging me before I knew.
I quickly started feeling uneasy, and as the interactions added up, I was really freaking out at the end of the day.
I hate strangers cheek-kissing me. I hate strangers getting close to me. In general terms, I hate being touched by people, unless they are my family or close friends. And then not even that much.
You are not my friend. We might, in the future, get to be acquaintances and maybe friends. But so far, this is a professional setting, and you should behave that way. Do you kiss your plumber? Do you go around kissing cashiers in the supermarket? Then why are you doing that to me?
Sod the social customs. Why do we women have to consent to have our personal space invaded by a stranger? Respect my boundaries, and I'll respect you.
Yes, I know that for Spanish people this is "the norm". But you have to understand that:
- it freaks out other Spanish people too, it's not only me.
- you freak out people from other countries who are not used to that.
- to hell with the norms.
When you freak people out they are not going to want to interact with you ever again and it might also ruin the day for that person, who will be now on the defensive instead of being relaxed and in a nice mood. Is that what you wanted? I bet not.
I want to think that you all have good intentions but not a clue about what your actions are causing, and that's why I'm going to ask you to please change the way you approach people in conferences:
A friendly "hello" should suffice to start a conversation. Keep a reasonable distance and let them initiate the hand-shaking, if they want to. In some cultures, women won't touch men in public, for example, and you have to respect that. And of course, don't try to hug or kiss them.