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The Death of the Handshake

When I get the call (or used to get pre-pandemic when the office was open to visitors) that someone is here in the office to see me, I would whip out my mirror, check my face and hair and begin “the walk” to the lobby. On “the walk”, I used to imagine a Cardi B song playing in the background with the wind whipping through my hair and the crowds cheering… wait, now I’ve intertwined two different daydreams. Seriously though, I would walk to the lobby with a song in my head, put a smile on my face, and do 1 of 2 things:

  1. Extend my hand for a giant handshake, or
  2. Extend my arms for a great big hug.

2020 has ruined both of those moments for me… along with everyone else. Nowadays, no one wants to shake your hand, receive a hug, or even give a hug without being disinfected or showering.

two arms reaching for one another--one in the water, one in the skyThe history of the handshake

If you are wondering where handshakes and hugs originated, I am here to tell you. I simply Googled it; here’s a quick version of how it all began. The handshake dates back to 5th Century B.C. in Greece, if you can believe it. It was a symbol of peace, showing that neither person was carrying a weapon. In Medieval Europe, it was a good way to shake any hidden weapons loose. In some cultures, people would wipe their tushes with their left hand and shake hands with their right, thankfully, to be more hygienic.

Handshakes around the world

In case you’re wondering, in some Asian countries a hard handshake is considered rude. On the other hand (pun intended), I don’t even have the mental space to go into the limp handshake, so let’s skip that part — because you just should know better. In Vietnam, for example, you should only shake hands with someone who is your equal in age or rank. In Thailand, instead of shaking hands, you might bow with your hands together and up to your chest. (Maybe this will be the new way we greet each other after the Coronavirus scare!) If someone has ever grasped your right arm with the left hand when shaking hands, it is a sign of respect. Also, when you shake hands with your Muslim friends, after shaking, you can touch their chest. This symbolizes the connection and understanding between the two of you. To make it even more complicated, some religions don’t do the handshake at all. While it used to be difficult to keep track of who does and who doesn’t shake hands, the good news is that now, you don’t have to keep track anymore. In any case, no limp handshakes. (Yes, I repeated myself, insert eye roll)

Handshakes in 2020

So — in this day and age — how do you politely decline a handshake? There is simply just not enough sanitizer to go around, plus some sanitizer smells so weird that I don’t even want to use it. (Honestly, I think some places are substituting hand sanitizer with Tequila, but I digress.)

two people in masks doing an "elbow crash"First, you have to acknowledge that this situation is just plain weird. You are leaving someone hanging, and they might take it as rejection. Maybe you can high-five, fist bump (do yourself a favor and Google fist-bump), elbow crash, pound shake, hip-hop hug, one-armed hug, dude hug, cootie hug, bro hug, man-hug, or a daps. Or… you can just laugh nervously.

On the bright side, at least you don’t have to explain why you’re not shaking hands anymore, even though that explanation will probably come pouring out of some of our mouths just because we were just raised that way.

I’ll end with this: kissing is also not an alternative to the handshake, despite that some research has found you might spread more germs by shaking hands than you do by kissing them.

I mean, I love you all, but really?


October 2020

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