Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Greeting rituals

I read this blog entry yesterday, and it started me thinking about my discomfort with greeting rituals. I am aware of the need for rituals in social interaction. And on an intellectual level many of these rituals make sense and I try to conform, on the one hand because I prefer not to draw attention to myself, and on the other hand I because I don't like to make other people feel uncomfortable. Again the irony of an autistic person being aware and accommodating of others' needs, while the others have no idea that the autistic person feels uncomfortable and have different needs.

One of the many good things about seeing my therapist is that he understands and is comfortable with my discomfort with greeting. I usually read in the waiting room, and when he comes in, he will say my name softly to get my attention, and I will just look up and sort of crinkle my eyes to acknowledge him. And then he will either offer me some coffee, or just say 'let's go' and we go to his office. And when we walk down the stairs afterwards, I can just mutter 'thanks' or 'okay' or even just smile, and walk out the door. I so appreciate it that he is willing to let go of what comes naturally to him so that I can do what comes naturally to me.

When I talk to my older brother, we also totally discard the normal greeting stuff, and I love it. The last time we met, after not seeing one another for a year, I was outside when he got out of the car and came to the gate. I told him "Go away, we don't want to buy anything." And he said "Wrong address, sorry!" and got back into the car as if to drive away. And I opened the gate and he drove in, and that was the greeting part taken care of. My mom also has a lovely way to open a conversation with me on the phone or on chat - she just says "What?" or "Yes?" and then we start talking.

What would I prefer when I encounter other people? Hmmm. Ideally I would like a few minutes of just observing. I'd like to look and listen and absorb and get a sense of the emotions present, I'd like to process my own reaction to this person or persons, and this is not an instant process. Only then I will feel ready to respond in an authentic way. When I get to know people well though, this processing takes place faster after a while.

What usually happens is that the moment people see each other the whole greeting ritual with smiles and touching and lots of small talk starts. I get caught up in a stream of jumbled impressions without the time and space to process and I follow the other person's lead while my authentic reactions and thoughts get pushed back. Sometimes I can stand back after the flurry of greeting is over and change gears from being acceptably social to being authentic. But changing gears is hard.

How about saying goodbye? I wish people could react to me the same way they react to a child. When a child announces 'I want to go home now', people smile at the honesty. I am certain if I announce the same, many people will be offended. So one changes it to the more acceptable 'I have to go now'. I struggle with the timing of this, and probably often leave places without greeting all the people personally. I can only hope that I don't offend too much. And then there are the expected protests, and other rituals that takes way too long. At this stage I often find comfort in inside laughter, thinking about one of the definitions in The Meaning of Liff - "HIDCOTE BARTRAM (n.)
To be caught in a hidcote bartram is to say a series of protracted and final goodbyes to a group of people, leave the house and then realise you've left your hat behind."

I have no problem with other people needing and enjoying rituals. I accept that it may mean more to them than I can understand. I am just grateful for the few family members and friends who do not expect me to conform and allow me to be my authentic self.


  1. Thank you for giving us some insight into what makes you tick. So next time we meet, I will just crinkle my eyes and nod, and that will be enough, okay? I know you like me as much as I like you, and that, to me, is enough! :-)

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