For some reason body language and appropriate touching has been on my mind lately. I do a fair amount of dancing and one partner of mine I hadn't seen in months. I know there was illness in his family and that my friend and taken temporary leave from work to travel and help get his family during the health crisis. So, his return to dance classes was a welcome sight and I literally skipped to where he was standing. Unselfconsciously, he throws his arms around me. But all of sudden it was as if an electronic current ran through him and he backs away in haste. Next, he starts apologizing. I am standing there looking confused. These were his words, " I am so sorry but I've just gotten back from Cape Breton." Then he lets out a sign of relief "oh that's right, it's OK you're from Quebec."
Notice how our mutual cultural background dictated what was appropriate. When I first moved away from Montreal and started graduate school in Toronto it was not uncommon for someone to remark, "You're not from here, are you?" When I asked people how they could tell I got a variety of answers. One is the characteristic way I have of using my hands when I talk. I was an Anglophone but I gestured like a Latin. Also, you could stand much closer to me before I flinched so people assumed that I had a French or Italian background. Then there is eye contact.
I think this has become more acute with time and our shifting gender roles. A few weeks back I was taking a dance workshop. Whenever the older men had a question it was inevitably about getting the steps right. When the younger men spoke up it was about their feelings and concerns. How close am I allowed to hold my partner? How do I know what she is comfortable with? I've also found it revealing that gender has dropped out a lot of the references or teacher's guideline for etiquette. You now approach someone and say, "Are you a lead or a follow?"