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The Demise of the Handshake? I Hope So

May 21st, 2020 · 1 Comment · coronavirus

I have dreaded shaking hands for a long time. Maybe 40 years, going back to the first time I heard the science-backed horror narrative of what sort of pathogens/germs/viruses can be easily passed along in the course of a handshake.

If you are out there pressing the flesh, well, you may as well plunge your right hand into a toilet, while you’re at it. (I don’t know how politicians can stand it.)

It is possible that one of the few long-term global improvements, following the Covid-19 pandemic, could be the end of the handshake among a now-virus-savvy global population.

Medical people have been sounding the alarm throughout the spread of the coronavirus that we must do our part by not passing on the disease, and most simplistically that means keeping your coughs and sneezes — and hands — to yourself.

Keeping my hands off unclean surfaces … that’s been the drill for me for a long time. I have been kicking in doors or elbowing my way out of rooms, well, as long as I can remember.

The handshake has been hard to avoid, in recent centuries. Someone extends a hand, you pretty much have to take it. So I did.

But that almost always was soon followed by a surreptitious trip to the lavatory to get some soap and water on my hands asap.

I worked several years at a place where nearly every guy in the department shook hands. Not just upon joining the staff or returning from vacation or a long weekend off.

No, these guys shook hands with the whole room every time they came to work, and every time they left it, because that was what they did. I remember my frustration at washing my hands, and feeling relieved, only to have another guy walk in 10 minutes later, shaking hands with everyone, prompting me to go out and wash my hands again.

Disease isn’t the only downside to the handshake.

There are several issues involved in hand-shaking that could create problems.

Grip. How much is enough? How much is too much? Women can get along with any kind of handshake, but among men … guys are making value judgments when we shake hands. Too weak? Too strong? Too long?

Too wet?

There are guys who get nervous, and their palms sweat. Shaking hands with them can be traumatic. I’ve known a few wet-handers who know they have an issue … and you can see them wipe their right palm on their trousers, drying it, before beginning a shake.

(Still gotta wash after that, but at least you avoided the bath.)

I should add that the high-five, which often is nothing more than a sloppy handshake, also could go away during the Covid Age, and I’m all for it.

Perhaps the world leader in handshaking, until a few months ago, was England, where all 11 starters are expected to shake hands with every member of the opposing 11 as well as the referee and his assistants. Germaphobes such as, I am told, Steven Gerard … will be ecstatic.

I recognize there have been times and places in the history of the world when handshaking served a purpose. For example, displaying an open right hand to a stranger. “I come in peace.” Or, “OK, it’s a deal.”

But just walking in a room of people you already know … let’s avoid it till something meaningful has happened. (And that means giving up high-fives, as well. We’re keeping our palms to ourselves.)

To be sure, I would go back to handshaking if it meant Covid-19 had never escaped China. No question.

But given that handshaking has been identified as source of contagion … when we get a cure, let’s just leave handshaking behind. It’s better for all of us.


1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Gene Hiigel // May 28, 2020 at 9:54 AM

    For some reason the handshake never bothered me. On the other hand I will not miss the high five, probably because I often missed when being forced to attempt it and I always had a feeling that this was something only 14-year olds and athletes did.

    Two things that I will not miss at all are the Peace and the air kiss (recognizing that NYC is definitely Class A Rookie League compared to France in that regard).

    As to the Peace, I never understood why we couldn’t wait until coffee hour to socialize instead of breaking up the service. But now there is hope that it will at least be limited (if we ever return to physical services).

    And as to the air kiss, even after 40 years in NYC, my Western/Midwestern background makes me uncomfortable being that close to people not related to me. Plus, as with the handshake, there were always mechanical issues and a moving target. Having grown up here, my daughters are great at it, but my wife and I, not so much.

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