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.
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.