Here’s how to replace handshakes

Something that will make Dr. Anthony Fauci (and others) happy, the handshake seems destined for the dustbin of history. “I don’t think we should ever shake hands again,” said Fauci.

Something the president should stop doing

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the 2,900-year-old custom was already fading, being overtaken, at least in America, by the fist bump (called the “terrorist fist bump” by some conservatives when the Obamas do it). 

Well before he turned politics upside down, Donald J. Trump was a well-known germophobe. 

In 1992, he was in Philly to support his then-girlfriend Marla Maples making her stage debut at the Shubert Theater, now known as the Merriam. The show was “The Will Rogers Follies,” and she played — irony of ironies — the girlfriend of producer Florenz Ziegfeld. 

The cast party following the show was at Bill Curry’s popular South Street restaurant Cafe Nola. It was a nice night and most of us walked from the theater, including Trump, who was then a celebrated New York developer. This was years before the TV career that made him a star and paved a path to the presidency.

As he walked down South Street, he shook hands with all who approached, but as soon as he got to the restaurant he made a beeline for the restroom, where he vigorously washed his hands. (Yes, I followed him in there. I was the Daily News’ gossip columnist and that’s part of the job.)

So when Trump today says he has never liked shaking hands, he is telling the truth. 

If you Google handshaking, you’ll find many essays condemning the practice that can be traced back to a 9th Century BC relief showing a Babylonian king pressing the flesh.There are several explanations as to why it was done, the most common being extending an open hand shows you are not carrying a weapon. Why right hand? Most people are right-handed, d’uh! 

The reason many essays condemn handshaking is because it spreads disease. Many doctors found it especially unsanitary during the flu season, but COVID-19 pushed concerns into the stratosphere.

We need a replacement, but what? Waving? Winking? Salute? Elbow bump? Hand over heart? Touch feet? 

Handshaking would be a difficult social custom to break, especially in the West, but the West is not the entire world. Other cultures have different customs.

Latin America uses the handshake, often amplified by a hug and sometimes a kiss on the cheek. The French are big on cheek kissing. In some Muslim cultures a handshake is accompanied by a kiss and even hand holding.

All of which are COVID-19 no-nos, like the one-armed half hug many American men favor.

Thais use a wai, which is a slight bow, with the palms of the hands pressed together, as in prayer. Hindus use it, too.

For Thais, fingertips reach the chin for equals, the tip of the nose for seniors and eye level for superiors — and that is the drawback. Because it is not used on people of lower rank than yourself, it can’t be used on everyone.

In Japan, a slight bow is traditional upon greeting. I think that works. I think we should adopt it.

It shows respect, maintains social distance and doesn’t require you to carry a bottle of sanitizer everywhere you go.

30 thoughts on “Here’s how to replace handshakes”

    Another thought provoking blog. What to do, what to do. I think it was in “airport” were as Leslie Nielsen went to shake some one’s hand, they actually frisked each other. I wonder. Could that approach work on a first date ?
    Another possibility would be the slapstick handshake ala the Marx Brothers, where you have a mechanical hand come out of your sleeve.
    But in reality, the slight bow and the joining of hands is very familiar to many of us. You are showing respect in this manner. What could be better?

  2. Amen to this article Stu! For me, it fell into the “Inquiring Minds” column in the back of my head some many weeks ago, wondering how handshaking was going to move forward after the fact. While I had too much on my platter to bother researching it, you’ve done that job for me, for which I thank you. From my otherwise limited knowledge of the subject, I also came up with the thought regarding the Japanese method as well, and I fully support you on this one. So we get looked at a little funny at times – so what? On a side note, I asked two friends that belong to the Union League about this time honored tradition, and how they will handle this potential problem at the club when they can finally start meeting. Their feeling is that handshaking will likely continue, albeit with gloves of one sort or another.

  3. I like the Vulcan method: hand in the air (splitting the fingers is optional), and then saying, “Live long and prosper.”

    When the Catholic Church added the ‘handshake of peace’ during the Mass it made me (and a LOT of others) cringe. A simple nod to a fellow churchgoer is sufficient, and this coronavirus thing, when it ends, will put an end to the ‘handshake of peace’…I sincerely hope.

    1. Vince,
      I agree about ‘the sign of peace’ , but as of this moment I can’t see me not extending my hand when greeting.

    As Americans, we have this strong attraction to statistics. As kids, we cheered for a record-breaking number of inches of snow. As adults, we hoped that in sports a team would break the record for most wins or losses. We would watch hurricanes, tornadoes, and morbidly play one state against another for the highest number of casualties. After we return to some form of normality when the virus is under control what will be the reaction to the hibernation. How many will remain housebound and not come out at all? Will many slip into the Stockholm syndrome? Will we retain the six feet separation in any group of ten or more? Are the handshake and hi-five over with? In New York will they have models march down the runway with the most fashionable masks and gloves? Will our children communicate only on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat ignoring personnel contact? I will be researching these questions when my favorite Tika bar reopens and I pose them to the bartender as I move my bar stool six feet away from the guy with the mask and gloves on.

  5. How about Jazz Hands? One or both, it looks like fun and the amount of effort you put in denotes how excited you are to see the other person.

  6. You bring up a good point, we should think about replacement greetings. A friend of mine gave up handshaking years ago, thinking it was an unsanitary practice. I thought she was overboard. Well, nowadays, she was ahead of her time. I’m a hugger, and that definitely will change in the future…if we can EVER get close to each other again.

  7. I never liked the “handshake of peace” feeling it was misplaced in the service. I wrote a letter to the editor of a Catholic newspaper about it.
    Now, I see the priest bowing to his parishioners and altar server and that is fine, but I still think bowing at the beginning of the service would be better than interrupting my contact with the Lord.
    And I sure like being a hugger with my loved ones. Can’t give that up, No problem giving up that handshake. That was to be the lady’s first offer anyway.

    1. An older priest in my parish has always said, ‘thank you’ when the congregation replied to his ‘peace…..’ Most would turn to
      each other and say peace be with you… very few handshakes. Remember we used to say ‘peace of Christ’ and shake? Also some priests would say, ‘Let’s offer to each other a sign of peace.’ I agree the hand shake at Mass is awkward and distractive. I miss the all Latin Mass! More meditation!

      1. I forgot, this priest now,skips the sign of peace and we say a ‘Hail Mary’. Everyone likes that.

  8. I suggest a smile with a friendly hello. A bow, in Japanese society, as I understand it,
    has degrees of how far you bow to the person you are greeting. But a head nod with a smile
    is a nice thought in my mind. My grandfather used to tip his hat to women!! He was old world, always wore a hat according to the season. His father was born in France. Nice custom, too!

    1. I enjoyed my two years in Japan and thought the bowing we all did was so very courteous. I cannot recall ever shaking hands with a Japanese.

  9. Repurpose the two-finger sign to mean “greetings.” It used to mean victory, then it meant peace. Now it’s the “two-beers, please” sign millennials use when they’re three deep at the bar and need to get the bartender’s attention.

  10. Interesting observation. The way one holds one’s hand when gesturing makes a huge difference. For example, Italians hold up a hand with only the index and small finger extended. If the Italian’s thumb is pointed AT you, it means “I’m sleeping with your wife.” If he holds his thumb toward himself, it means “I’m giving you the evil eye (malocchio),” which is a curse upon you. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

  11. HAPPY SUNDAY !!!
    The use of the hands goes way back to the beginning of time. In modern times, most peoples have used the hands, but the Italians are best known for the hands. There are almost as many hand signs, in Italian, as there are words. The “maloik” is one that has been seen in movies, t.v. and, of course, from Nonna. It really only works when an elderly lady stares you down.
    Watch people at work. Construction surveyors have their own language, with hand signals. So do many of the trades. Never mind the military. You just don’t want to talk in certain circumstances.

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