March 31, 2000
Dr. Judith Lapierre, a Canadian space researcher, announced
earlier this week that she is withdrawing from a Russian space
isolation research project.
She had spent 110 days with a group of male scientists in
an isolation chamber designed by the Russian Institute of Biomedical
Problems to imitate conditions on a spaceship.
Then, during a New Year's Eve party in the isolation chamber,
Dr. Lapierre said one of the Russian scientists dragged her off
into a dark corner and kissed her, forcing his unwanted attentions
- not to mention his tongue - on her.
No doubt he murmured the Russian equivalent of "theoretical
astrophysicists from the former Soviet Union need love too".
The Russians have said here was nothing sexual about it. They
just like to kiss each other, and we should just loosen up.
Lapierre has a doctorate in public health and social medicine,
and so I'm inclined to believe her when she said it was sexual
harassment and not just a friendly smack among fellow scientists.
Personally, I'm not even that big a fan of social kissing.
I don't know what it is about people who barely know you who
want to kiss you.
In my family (Protestant, awkward with our bodies) there was
a great deal of love and affection, but it mostly manifested
itself in hugs.
A hug on the way out the door or when coming home from a trip
was just fine. But hugs are a nice, dry, Canadian way of showing
affection. It's reassuring and allows you to share body heat.
Dad was big on hugs, and we got to the point as adults that
we would hug at the end of our regular Wednesday lunch before
we headed back to our offices.
But kissing wasn't something that was casually thrown around
in my family.
Don't get me wrong. I like kissing plenty. I just restrict
it to my wife. In fact, our friends can't believe that my wife
and I show so much affection for each other after 10 years or
marriage. There's still lots of hugs and pats.
But it's not that embarrassing kind of affection - the kind
where you should either get a room or a tetanus shot. No one
- myself included - wants to watch some couple playing tonsil
hockey in public.
I also don't want strangers and distant relatives planting
big wet ones on me. I get this moment of panic when someone in
a social situation starts moving in for a "social"
I'll gamely offer up a cheek, but some women home in on your
lips like a cruise missile. No matter how you try to dodge and
evade, they'll hold your head and follow you in for a direct
hit on the lips.
Usually I'll end up mashing noses, since I freeze and don't
tilt my head to one side to make the approach any easier. My
lips disappear into my face, and I never know what to do with
my hands, so I either stick them straight out or let them dangle
at my side.
My eyes will dart back and forth looking for an escape, pleading
with my wife to save me, at the same time reassuring her that
I am not having any fun.
And that's just with the women.
Needless to say, I don't initiate social kisses, but I have
it on pretty good authority that I give a heck of a handshake.