Is it RIP The Handshake?
By Shane Pinnegar
I was brought up to believe that a handshake meant something: you gripped firmly, shook confidently, and looked the person in the eye.
To this day if someone presents a shy, averted gaze whilst shaking, I’m suspicious. If their grip is loose, limp and flaccid, then I can’t help but feel disdain for them. Are they hiding something? Are they a weak individual?
Such is the power of the things ingrained in us deeply in childhood.
But now, of course, in the midst of a global pandemic – there’s no handshakes at all, at least not for the foreseeable future.
Even elbow bumps are out – if you’re close enough to elbow bump, you’re close enough to transmit Covid-19!
Forget about giving someone a kiss on the cheek. When I lived in France it was two kisses – one on each cheek – for every man, woman and child you met, even if you didn’t know them! Three in Belgium, I think.
Not any more!!
Which got me to thinking. Why do we shake hands?
I believe it was originally a symbol of peace. A way to get enemies face to face, so they could look in each other’s eyes and judge their honesty and integrity – and you can’t hold a sword or dagger if you’re shaking hands (well, not in that hand, anyway). It evolved into a sign of an agreement – a form of unwritten contractual obligation – perhaps when paper was scarce or people rarely learnt to read.
There’s also the issue of toxic masculinity. We’ve all encountered the sort of douchebag who treats a handshake as a contest they must win.
So, perhaps the handshake is symbolic of an older, outdated time. Perhaps we should do away with it forever?
Once we emerge, blinking like newborns, into the bright post-Covid world, it’s unlikely that everything will just ‘snap back’ to the way it was. (That’s a good thing – though sadly a lot of things which should change won’t)
So will we go back to shaking hands, kissing cheeks, hugging? I hope, in some way, these won’t be completely sacrificed. Maybe we’ll have to alter the way we operate. An elbow bump, perhaps, or tapping the side of our shoes together?
Undoubtedly some people will not want to revert to shaking hands and kissing strangers – and we have to respect that. Maybe the road forward is to ask permission. Especially in the case of a kiss, that would surely be the most respectful option – no-one enjoyed that one creepy friend using a greeting as an opportunity to be a bit of a perve. Cut it out, Dave!
I’ll miss the intimacy personal contact gives – I already do. It’s not a creepy, sexual thing, almost all of us feel good when we hug a friend or lover or family member, and well we should.
If we can’t hug, can’t shake hands or even knock elbows, tap ankles, or bump booties, then will we run the risk of becoming more physically and emotionally distanced as people? Will it be a milder form of self-isolation, even when we are allowed to mingle again?
Maybe. For now, though, we remain contactless and have to make the most of that. I’ll definitely be more thoughtful about whether someone wants the personal contact of a handshake, a kiss or a hug when the world is back to spinning properly.
But if you are going to shake, at least make the effort to do it properly, with a firm grip while making eye contact!