Handshake: A Fresh Look at an Ancient Form of Greeting

A handshake is one of the oldest forms of greeting, and one of the finest ways of spreading germs. It’s a form of non-verbal communication, depicted on pottery held in the British Museum which dates back to the 5th century BC Nowadays it’s just a routine way of saying ‘hello’, but originally it was a gesture of peace which demonstrated that neither party was carrying weapons in their dominant hand. In recent times there have been numerous variations on this basic theme, most of which are designed to signify membership of an exclusive group. Members of the Klu Klux Klan used to greet each other with a grip which was outstandingly limp. Scouts demonstrate their group loyalty by shaking with their left hands, because these are closest to their hearts. Fellow Masons greet each other using a secret handshake known as the Boaz, in which the thumb is pressed against the knuckle of the first finger. Now, however, we’re being warned of the health risks of shaking hands in any fashion. Prior to the recent Olympic Games, the Chief Medical Office of the British Olympic Association advised UK competitors to avoid shaking hands. And on the other side of the pond, more than a quarter of Americans admit that they’ve become ‘germaphobes’ and are following the current advice that they should cough and sneeze into their sleeves rather their hands. In fact a recent poll revealed that 55% of Americans would rather touch a public toilet seat that shake hands with someone who’d just sneezed into their outspread hands.

Some people believe that a handshake gives an insight into a person’s personality, in the same way that they demonstrate their characters through the way they stand, walk and gesticulate. This is questioned by a team of psychologists who

recently studied the link between personality and handshakes and concluded, somewhat ambiguously: “They certainly play a part in generating a first impression, but the data reported here suggest that, with the possible exception of conscientiousness, handshakes should not be considered a necessary diagnostic tool in the evaluation of others. They may, however, predict whether someone will show up for their next appointment with you on time.” Unfortunately they didn’t say exactly how this outcome could be predicted. So, until more is known about the psychology of hand shaking, maybe we could employ a neutral, noncommittal grip along the lines of that advocated by Emily Post’s standard book of etiquette, The Blue Book of Social Usage which claims: “The proper handshake is made briefly: but there should be a feeling of strength and warmth to the clasp and, as in bowing, one should at the same time look into the countenance of the person whose hand one takes.”

But if you’re on a cruise this winter, and there’s a norovirus outbreak on board, don’t be surprised if the Captain

cancels his traditional welcoming cocktail party for fear of spreading this highly infectious bug. Don’t take any chances. Instead of employing a handshake to say your hallos and goodbyes, switch instead to using the delightful wei greeting used in Thailand Place your hands together in front of your chest in an attitude of prayer, and then bow gently from the waist.

© www.donaldnorfolk.co.uk

Print This Post