Monday, August 26, 2013

Fire Breathing Toaster: Lose the Handshake

Walters Art Museum, Wikimedia Commons
by Bill Adler

The story of the origin of the the handshake goes something like this: Back in medieval times people shook hands to prove that they weren't armed. It was a way to greet somebody and show that you meant them no harm.

I don't believe that story because did one really need to shake hands to prove that you didn't have a sword or knife in your hand? The person you're greeting can see if you have a weapon well before you get close enough to shake hands. And what about the other hand where a weapon could be hiding?

Whatever the origin of the handshake, it's time to get rid of it. For one thing, germs, yes, and I'll get to that in a moment. But the main reason to replace handshaking with some other form of greeting is that the handshake is just too complicated. I came to this conclusion when I read a recent article on Lifehacker, "The Five Mistakes That Can Ruin Any Handshake," Really? If shaking somebody's hand can be ruined by a grip that's too tight, involves wandering fingers, or is sweaty, then it's time to replace the handshake with something that doesn't require a manual. If you read the Lifehacker article on handshake no-no's you may even feel that it's incomplete, as I did. Add to the list: handshakes that go on too long, are too weak, or break your fingers.

How many shakes are you supposed to do? Two? Three? Till somebody's bored? Who lets go first, the alpha male? Handshaking is just too complicated.

I don't want to have to think, "Am I getting this handshake right?" when I greet somebody. Social interaction is weird enough, and the last thing I want to do is make somebody feel uncomfortable because I shook their hand wrong. The second to last thing I want is to feel like I need to towel my hands dry afterward.

And what about the germ thing? Yep, it's not a paranoid fantasy to say that shaking hands spreads germs. Just look at this one nice little statistic: According to the American Center for Microbiology, 44% of American males and 22% of American females don't wash their hands after, um, a number two. Then there are colds, influenza and other communicable diseases. A lot of people just cough and sneeze into their hands. Sure, we don't want to live in a bubble -- we can't and we shouldn't. But do you really want to shake the hand of somebody at a banquet right before dinner if that person's done a number two in the bathroom and is one of the 44 percent?

The thing about handshaking is that we don't have to. The handshake is certainly no more respectful or friendly than many of the other handshake alternatives used in other cultures, such as a bow, fist bump, or happy wave. We could even make new greetings, such as a mutual thumbs up or folding hands in front of our faces and smiling, though in my opinion bowing is the best form of greeting. Bows in movies are often exaggerated. A regular, ordinary, human being bow consists of a quick nod, perhaps from the shoulders down. But not a waist bend. A bow is easy to do, friendly, and doesn't require that you wipe the creme from a Twinkie off your hands first. The other great thing about bowing is that you can even do it over a Skype video chat. Just try shaking somebody's hand over Skype; you'll look like a dork.

Possibly the only advantage that shaking hands has over bowing or other forms of greeting is that you can teach cats and dogs to shake paws.

Germs are a good reason to not shake hands, but the even better reason is that, as Lifehacker put it, "Bad handshakes are hard to forget...Let's face it, when a handshake is improperly performed, it leaves us with negative feelings about the person who gave us that handshake."


Bill Adler is a writer. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets,", "Outwitting Squirrels,", and a mess of other books. He tweets at @billadler. Fire Breathing Toaster is published on Mondays.

No comments:

Post a Comment