There I was starting a new teaching assignment, teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) to Spanish-speaking employees at a large company in the Bronx.
Everything was going swimmingly until the Big Bad Boss (BBB) of the company (presiding over some 600 employees) marched in and in tones of great pomposity and self-importance, preceded to give a speech to the hundreds of gathered minions about the importance of improving their English communication skills.
Only problem was there were only around 15 people in the room – me and my students – so we were all rendered deafened and stunned into submission within about ten seconds of the start of this roaring message of bountifulness.
Everything was larger than life and glistening on the BBB – his tremendous stature, his starched white shirt pulled tight over his bulging midriff, his gleaming whiter than white fangs, the luminescent orangey-brown fake tan on his chubby cheeks, the slicked-back shiny locks on his head, the large buckled belt buoying up said midriff from below. And surely that wasn’t a pair of gleaming cowboy-style boots I could see peeping out below his trousers?
I thought I’d seen the worst of it as the speech drew to a close. But boy was I in for a treat. The BBB then fixed his shiny beady gaze on me, the teacher providing this great service to his underlings. He strode majestically over towards me as he thanked me for my services.
All meek European me could do was start shying away as he came thundering ever closer.
To no avail.
I brandished my paw hurriedly so as to stem his relentless progress towards me. He robustly shook my hand – and the rest of my 5″7 being in the process.
He came closer still.
I backed away.
I ran out of backing-into space as I hit the furthermost wall.
The BBB took me in his hairy paws and gripped me in a giant grappling bear hug.
I cringed, I froze, I blushed from the upper-most roots of my hair to the lower-most toes on my feet.
My students asked me afterwards why I had looked so terrified.
I told them that not in all my years working in the cold-blooded metropolises of London and Paris, would any boss have ever, in a million years, done more than shake my hand on the first day of a new job. Personal space is something we take very seriously in the Old World workplace.
They needed to know that bear hugs were most definitely a phenomenon exclusive to the New World where they, and I, were now residing.