How web founder got his nose out of joint

Sir Tim put a brave face on it as he moved along the line of people shoving their noses in his face.

The enthusiasm with which European and Maori New Zealanders find any pretext to perform the haka is not only making a mockery of it but is making many of the rest of us “all haka’d out”.

But now it seems they’re turning their talents to the hongi, which they perform with gusto at any and every opportunity, often to the discomfort of those they are greeting.

A glaring example was the welcome the inventor of the world wide web Sir Tim Berners-Lee received at Te Papa in Wellington this week before giving a public lecture on the importance of keeping the web open and accessible to everyone.

Judging from some of the television coverage, the poor chap seemed surprised and a tad bewildered as he pressed noses with a seemingly endless line of wellwishers – most of them, curiously, Europeans.

But he put a brave face on it as he moved along the line of people shoving their noses in his face.

Even the news media covering the event remarked on how he “gingerly embraced part of our culture with a hongi greeting”.

Perhaps he was poorly briefed on what to expect and how to respond, but if people are uncomfortable with this ritual – and there are many valid reasons why this may be – they should not have it thrust upon them willy nilly.

Invasion of their space
For some cultures it is an invasion of their space as well as an unhealthy practice which spreads germs.

And for beginners, it can be an acutely awkward gesture to undertake, especially when protocol often decrees they should keep their eyes closed so as not to be seen to be challenging their hosts.

Then there is the delicate matter of judging how firm the nose contact should be, as well as whether they should be shaking hands at the same time.

It is a tricky ritual full of potentially embarrassing pitfalls but, regrettably, these considerations appear to have been disregarded as we subject all and sundry to our shores to an “in your face” nasal nudge.

This writer has clocked up many hongis over more than 40 years in journalism but is still trying to master the art of doing them properly. 

Perhaps it would be good manners to ask overseas visitors discreetly beforehand whether they wish to hongi or not, rather than just imposing it upon them?  

rvaughan@nbr.co.nz

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