The Return of the Handshake

There was a brief minute at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when I thought I might never shake another person’s hand again. And I was fine with that. If we could take just one positive thing out of the widespread death, illness and cultural disturbance that began in 2020, it might be ridding ourselves once and for all of the compulsion to rub our palms together.

But even when I was in the middle of a long no-handshake stretch, full of wishful thinking about the future, I knew deep down that the germ clutch would soon return. And of course it did.

My prejudicial prediction was that most people wouldn’t want to return to handshaking, but a bunch of insistent jackasses would refuse to let it die. Then it would slowly become normal again and we’d all live with it. I was wrong. Pretty much everyone started extending their hands the moment lockdowns and mandates were eased. There was no resistance.

The whole notion of dropping the handshake from our culture was never really brought up. In retrospect, that’s fine, because it would have been just another thing that would have divided people anyway. The only way to effectively end the handshake in America would be an executive order by the President demanding that everyone shake hands all the time.

So it probably isn’t worth writing or reading any more paragraphs about ending the handshake, but if there’s one thing we can all agree on it’s that bitching about things is fun, so I’ll continue.

The reason I hate the handshake isn’t that I’m a germaphobe or incapable of ever recovering from pandemic fears. I just think the handshake tradition is lame and it would have been nice to move away from it. That’s it. We can hug or we just don’t need to touch each other at all in my opinion.

What most of us don’t think about is that really the only reason the handshake persists is that when someone says, “Paul, I want you to meet Donovan,” there is this awkward moment where our minds tell us we are supposed to shake hands. If I don’t hold out my hand and Donovan doesn’t hold out his hand, we can move on, but if either hand is extended the other is morally obligated to reciprocate in the handshake because it’s just clearly and supremely rude not to.

And the compulsion is so strong that some handshake-averse people will initiate non-handshakes by trying to bump fists or slap palms. During the pandemic there were even bozos who wanted to touch elbows together. Can we just bow and be done with it? Because someone figured out that perfectly good option thousands of years ago.

But whatever you do, don’t curtsey. That’s worse than the handshake. Have some dignity.

How did the curtsey ever become a thing? It’s like someone said, “well, I’m in a bowing situation right now, but I have a skirt on, so I really shouldn’t bow, for reasons that no one can really clarify, so I’ll just briefly collapse my knees as a gesture of subordination.”

And cheek kissing? I’d rather exchange headbutts.

You can say my rationale for ending the handshake tradition is flimsy, but what reasons do you have to continue it? Do you really enjoy it? Does it light up certain pleasure centers when you clasp hold of the thing I just wiped my nose with? If you want I can save up all my used facial tissues in a bag and you can pick them up once a month and just have your way with them.

At the very least, can we come up with a way to stop the handshake gauntlet? That’s my term for when you run into a friend at an event and get introduced to a table full of people who, one by one, all hold out their hand for you upon being named.

The polite thing for your friend to do in that situation should be to say, “Paul, these are a bunch of people I know. If you end up talking to one of them for more than one minute you might want to know that person’s name, but even then you’re going to forget it anyway so let’s not bother with introductions much less touching. I respect you too much for that.”

But no, the handshake is back like it never left. Put it there, brother. Shake on it. Slip me some skin. I’ve already gone back to pretending it isn’t stupid.

3 Comments

Dave Sorensen

about 3 months ago

Be glad you're not a bonobo.

Bill Nash

about 3 months ago

I just realized why I enjoy reading your stuff, and the essays by Anna Tennis as well. It's because you guys actually THINK about things, rather than just jumping in lockstep with the rest of the flock. That trait is always refreshing, just as it is always unexpected and unusual.

I recall in my own days of social indoctrination (the real idea behind the public school system ... look it up). My period was the 1950s and 1960s ... I was pretty much done with "education" by 1970, at least I was done with believing most of it. I did return from time to time to learn a particular skill, but had all but realized that a degree (at least in the subjects that interested me) was really just a useless excuse to become a debt slave, and I managed to accomplish that without any help from schools.

My recollection was that the origin of the handshake (we were talking about handshakes, right? I am usually either digressing or taking a breath, but I think that was the subject at hand) occurred in medieval times. Something about knights offering their hands (their RIGHT hands, as the Catholic and other assorted and sundry christian denominations had already established the left hand as Satan's territory) to other knights to indicate that they were unarmed. Apparently if they were armed, it was more like a "swordshake," or, in modern parlance, an assault.

Of course that is a dated, quaint and antiquated custom. Nowadays, people don't need swords or visible weapons to indicate bad intent, as we have progressed beyond such obvious, easily detected indications of our objectives. So the handshake has pretty much lost any and all usefulness, and therefore is unlikely to be discarded.

Hanging on to bad ideas from the past is how we roll.

Helmut Flaag

about 3 months ago

Absolutely. I've spouted as much along these lines and STILL found myself extending an occasional awkward hand out of a sense of duty only to be met with the 'oh here we go again' face. But I thought you wanted this? It's a vicious cycle. I know for a fact the ladies definitely want out. That only leaves a scant 30% of the swingin' dicks in the MAGA crowd still hanging on for old time's sake. Because that's what they do. Something needs to be done to 'kill the beast' as Don Henley would say.

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