The little niceties of life are often lost on me. Social interaction provides a plethora of pitfalls that provide the unwary with almost unlimited opportunities for making a complete arse of themselves.
With the increasing trend for embracing all things European, we now have the additional complexity of trying to cope with things that are from outside our own culture and therefore even more likely to trip us up.
The greatest source of confusion for me is the act of greeting someone or saying goodbye, which as far as I'm concerned involves the simple act of saying either "hello" or "goodbye".
These days however, it seems every other person feels the need to invoke some sort of physical contact, which to my mind should begin and end with a brief firm handshake, but inevitably involves some sort of kissing routine.
Or is it kissing? Indeed a whole range of questions line up in my brain the instant someone moves in for more than a handshake, such as do I go left or right, are you expected to kiss the other person's cheek or do that sort of air-kiss thing, and do you have to do it both sides or just the one?
All these questions clamour for attention at exactly the same time leaving me totally befuddled, and terrified that this confusion might lead to an inadvertent bout of tonsil hockey with my sister which is completely inappropriate behaviour outside of the more remote parts of Norfolk.
On the other hand, it's a convenient method of getting closer to unrelated women who you wouldn't normally be allowed within three feet of.
I'm just thankful that blokes tend to not go in for this approach; preferring to stick with the more traditional attempts to break a few bones in each others hands in a move that says "I like you but I could hurt you if I had to".
A brief hug is OK as a greeting if it's someone you're close to and haven't seen in a while, but even then there's the risk of it lingering too long. Too brief and it's meaningless, but too long and it could be misconstrued as foreplay.
On the whole I try avoid all of this, preferring to hang back desperately trying to send out telepathic waves saying "please don't do the kissy thing..... please don't do the kissy thing....."
The thing is, we're English and we just don't do that sort of thing. We're emotionally repressed, undemonstrative dullards, and quite happy to stay that way. If we were intended to greet each other like Italians, then we'd have been born in Italy. I'm more than happy to enjoy Italian food, wine and cars, but beyond that I think I'll stay firmly in my comfort zone, thinking how nice it would be if we could wind the clock back to a time when greetings were limited to a tug of the forelock or a doff of the cap.
If we must import this sort of thing from other cultures, why not do it with Japan? I love sake, sushi and even Suzuki, and what could be a more respectful way of greeting someone than with a short courteous bow?