Monday, September 10, 2012

Making the Rounds

This is my sixth season attending renaissance festivals, my fourth consecutive at this particular faire, and I have watched a pattern emerge in the way people greet one another. Rennies hug. But it's more than that, there is a kind of almost ritual involved in the hugging.

When a person or the small group they traveled to faire with first arrives on site, after the typical dash to the privies (that means the restroom for those unfamiliar with medieval lingo), there begins an almost systematic lap of the faire site so that one can greet--and hug--each and every person they know who is either working there or is visiting for the day. In cases where the individual in question knows a great many people at the faire this can actually take a couple of hours.

Rennies hug, as I've stated before. But it's not only those who are close friends as happens in the rest of the world. If someone has met you before they will hug you upon greeting them, more so if they find you remotely attractive, funny, or otherwise in any way pleasant. Sometimes they might even hug one another upon first meeting, for many of the same reasons, or as a means of flirting or to try to build a friendship. Flirting is a huge part of social interaction at the renfaire, but that is for another post.

And something else interesting about the hug-greetings is that many rennies don't even have to remember your name to feel that hugging is appropriate. There is a man who works at one of the shops with a young lady whom I know rather well. He has greeted me with hugs several times and I cannot for the life of me remember his name, nor he mine I'm sure. But he always comments on my red hair and how much he adores redheads.

Sidenote: Rennies also adore redheads. And I have noticed a markedly higher proportion of gingers to other hair colours at faire over the years, compared to the general American population even.

Back to hugs. After the initial rounds of greetings and hugs, one is then free to go about their day of seeing shows, shopping, and general play among the people who are there for the same purpose. Often one goes back to spend some time with close friends, although if those friends happen to be working at one of the shops or booths the interaction is sometimes intermittent while the shopkeeper assists customers. I have seen (and been part of) multiple interactions in which the shopkeeper's visiting friend helps them make a sale.

And it is also interesting to note that because so many rennies work at any given faire, the visits during which playtron friends, or sometimes even others who are working at a faire they live local to and are driving there for the day or weekend only, quite often friend pairs or small groups may have only one or very few lengthy conversations or meaningful interactions during a given faire season. But still they hug one another like family each time they meet.

This process of making the rounds to say good-bye to friends and acquaintances is customarily done at the end of the day or whenever one is planning on leaving. This can be shortened to simply stopping in, hugging, and giving a quick "gotta go" before sprinting off to the next person to say good-bye to. And the list of people to hug on the way out may also be kept to only those close friends, or sometimes only those one must pass on the way to the gate to leave. However, if it is a person's last day at that faire for that season--hugs all around! Everyone that person knows must be visited. Again, this can take up to a couple of hours depending on how many people one knows.

In this kind of fantasy environment where the senses and emotions are both beset with highly charged input, friendships can feel as if they happen quickly, and social bonds form at a pace not usually seen in mundane life, perhaps because of the fleeting nature of the social context and the short length of a given faire season (usually only 4-8 weekends a year depending on the festival). While neither this nor the flirting that is such a significant part of social interaction at renaissance festivals are the topic of my thesis, they are still incredibly interesting and will probably be the subject of some future paper.

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