Analyzing the Obama-Paterson Handshake Hug

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Photo: Getty Images

You know that thing that happens when you don't know whether you're supposed to give someone one kiss on the cheek or two? (Rules of thumb: One on one cheek is for Americans, one on both cheeks is for pretty much everyone else, and one on the mouth is only for exes and gay people.) If you get it wrong, you can end up almost mouth-kissing your Aunt Cindy by accident. There's also the Handshake Hug, where two people, usually men, don't know whether to just press palms or go into a full embrace. Awkwardness almost inevitably ensues, even for the most comfortable companions — so imagine how wretched it was when Barack Obama, who had just been on the front page of the New York Times for reportedly urging David Paterson not to run again, met and embraced the New York governor. Actually, you don't have to imagine. The Times gleefully reported a blow-by-blow:

The awkwardness of the moment was perhaps reflected in Obama’s body movements on the tarmac. When he went in for the quick hug of Mr. Paterson, he turned his back to the television news cameras, almost as if to avoid the taking of images that would show the two men in a warm embrace.


The news crews said that Mr. Obama did not appear to be smiling when he turned around. Mr. Obama moved on to greet others, but stepped next to Mr. Paterson to say a few things to the group of five or six people assembled around him. There were a couple of more pats on the back — Mr. Paterson on Mr. Obama and Mr. Obama on Mr. Paterson — and then it was over. Mr. Obama got into one car. Mr. Paterson got into another car. Plenty of New York media were on hand to visually catch the exchange.


"He turned his back to the television news cameras, almost as if to avoid the taking of images that would show the two men in a warm embrace"? That's a wee bit of conjecture, there, guys. Did it occur to you that maybe Governor Paterson had just enjoyed a garlicky lunch? Hmmm? Or that President Obama maybe had let one slip and needed to evacuate the area in short order? Because in our experience, people have a lot of motives for giving brief hugs, and they are not always the most immediately obvious. At least by sight.

Obama Arrives to an Awkward Hug From Paterson [City Room/NYT]