As I have dedicated this blog to the serious, reflective, and thought-provoking study of subtle and significant cultural differences, it’s about time I took on the most controversial topic of all: xogate.
In the interest of thorough, hard-hitting journalism I’ll briefly explain that in the generally accepted American parlance, “x”s stand for kisses, and “o”s for hugs. Because I’m not that interested in thorough, hard-hitting journalism, I’m not going to bother looking on Wikipedia right now to discover the genesis of this strange custom, though I believe “o”s have the encircling nature of a hug, and when you kiss someone your mouth puckers into an “x,” lips crossed as if disembodied from your face. At least if you’re doing it right.
Before I moved to London, I had some friends who spent time in England who tended to sign messages and letters with an “x.” I don’t mean as a signature like they were illiterate, I mean in place of “Love,” the way most Americans would use “xo” (times however many are appropriate to your level of affection for the recipient of said message or letter.) I didn’t put two-and-two together until I met some actual British people and almost from the first Facebook comment or message they sent me, I got “x”-ed. It seemed a bit forward, but it made me feel good, like I was special, significant, that these people sought my “x” back.
Then I came to England and discovered EVERYONE “x”s EVERYONE over here.
Basically from the first message from a British person, you’re likely to get an “x.” I imagine they sign their inquiries to customer service and government representatives this way. Sometimes you even get an “xxx,” but I don’t honestly believe this has any emotional significance, it’s more like a tic. Maybe that button on their keyboard is stuck pressed down.
I’ve never seen an English person “o.” All this is rather amusing to me, given the standoff-ish nature of the Brits, who would never “x” or “o” you in the world of physical contact. This isn’t Europe with double and triple-cheek kisses for your postman. You’re lucky to get a curt nod from the English, let alone a hug, God forbid a kiss.
So perhaps it’s all rather hypocritical of British people to hand out written “x”s like they are a warm, physical people with a lot of extra love to give. In any case, I didn’t want to get involved. Before I got here, I was determined to continue signing my emails and messages with the patriotic “xoxo” formula my American breeding dictated. I considered “x”-ing the transcribed equivalent of a Madonna-level faux-English accent. I didn’t want to be a poser. I’m not British and I still say trashcan and bathroom and zucchini and comforter. I want to hold on to the all-encompassing generosity of the “o.”
But now I find myself seduced by the “x” alone. There is something sleek and sophisticated about it. It’s just more grown-up than that desperate reach of the “o,” which begs “LIKE ME!” The “o”s roundness makes it too inclusive. The “x” is sharp. Its slashes say “no.” The “x” doesn’t care. It is exclusive. The “x” kisses you – an intimate gesture, but only on paper. It actually is the perfect English symbol. It’s aloof, easily withheld through deletion, but still, it’s cooler than you are, like how a kiss would sound if kisses had hot Northern accents.
So sometimes I just use the “x” to sign off. Just one, simple and elegant, not trying too hard. Not screaming for acceptance in a country where I speak the language but don’t understand the customs. Every time I end an email, I’m tortured by a sense of betrayal for my native land, which opens its arms to envelop me in infinite roundness, no edges or hard, definitive lines to hurt me. It hugs me and lets me known I belong.
I blow America an “x” and turn my back.