Saturday, May 23, 2020

Still Life with Robin: New Greetings

by Peggy Robin

The old hand-to-hand greetings – the handshake, the high five, even the fist-bump – are on their way out, as are the cheek-kisses (single, double, triple) once so favored in Europe among both women and men, and in the US, mainly among women. The Washington Post has covered the downward trend in the case of the handshake -- see this link: -- and in the case of the cheek-kiss -- see this link: .

Now the looming question for our entire civilization is: What do we do instead?

I present this handy guide to the most popular choices, in the hope that the best will gain traction and become the go-to move for us all.

Folded hands. 🙏 - often accompanied by the greeting, namaste”.
Pro: It's simple, and everyone can do it. It’s a gesture of peace.
Con: Makes you feel like you’re in yoga class. Can you see your grandpa doing this?
Safety rating: AA - for Anyone - without Any trouble - can fold their hands together in greeting.

Bowing. That’s what they do in Japan. People over there actually study and practice how to perform different types of bows, as shown here:
Pro: Shows respect. Seems like a formal, proper gesture.
Con: Bows, historically, have been a way to denote servility. In most cultures that use the bow, those of lower social status are expected to bow deeper than those of higher rank – not exactly in line with the ideals of an egalitarian society. Also, in the European tradition, the bow has traditionally been seen as a masculine gesture; women don’t bow – they curtsy. We’re not about to start that, are we?
Safety rating: B - for Back trouble - and if you've got it, then Bowing’s not for you!

The Vulcan salute. 🖖 Invented by writers on Star Trek as the greeting on the planet Vulcan. See:
Pro: This gesture is the epitome of Nerd cool – and therefore the logical choice.
Con: No, no, no! This is nerdiness squared! You’re not at Comic-Con, people! On top of that, lots of people find it difficult, even slightly painful, to part the fingers between the middle and ring fingers.
Safety Rating: A-. Arthritis in your fingers? Don’t do it!

Tip of the hat. See:  
Pro: Always a fun thing to do if you’re wearing a hat.
Con: Well, how often are you wearing a hat these days? And if you are wearing a derby, you may be tempted to put on an Irish accent and add, “Top of the mornin’ to ya” – even if it’s not the morning. Before you know it, you’re sounding like a cartoon leprechaun and people will be after your Lucky Charms.
Safety rating: C - for See how far you will chase your hat down the street if it blows off your head in a high wind)

Civilian salute: This is not the crisp, stiff-handed military version but a brief two-finger touch to the eyebrow and a quick flick away. See: 
Pro: Jaunty, quick, easy to do.
Con: You’ve seen New York doormen do this (at least in the movies, where they all seem to do it). Also, when seen from a distance it can look a lot like the “what was I thinking?” gesture that people make in cars when they’ve just done something stupid….or even the  “Just shoot me now” gesture.
Safety rating: B – for Be careful not to poke yourself in the eye with your two fingers.

Wave: You just hold up one hand and shake it back and forth a few times. See:  
Pro: It’s fast, friendly and works equally well for hello or goodbye.
Con: It’s hard not to imagine the waver coaxing a baby, “Wave bye-bye to grandma” Bye-bye! Bye-bye!”
Safety Rating: A for Awww, just wave for Grandma!

Head nod. Less formal than a bow, simple, a hands-free gesture – see  
Pro: Expressive, flexible, adaptable to many occasions - you can convey a lot with a nod, whether you’re just giving a quick acknowledgement that the other person is present, or a significant dip, to express your appreciation at seeing them.
Con: If you nod before you make eye contact, it can look as though you are avoiding the other person, rather than greeting them.
Safety rating: AA – for A simple nod is Always a safe bet.

Elbow tap. This is a new thing for those who miss the high five. You stick out your elbow to tap gently against the other person’s extended elbow. See how it’s done:
Pro: You get the physical contact of a handshake, but you're using a part of your body that you'll never touch to your face.
Con: People don’t expect an elbow tap, so you will probably need to instruct them. Also, lots of people are now sneezing into their elbows – so the elbow isn’t necessarily a germ-free zone. (Although you still won't touch your face with your elbow).
Safety rating: D - for Don’t crash your elbow into someone else or that could really hurt!

Hip bump.  Another innovation in a physical-contact greeting. You go up to someone and swing a hip toward their hip. Here’s a video showing people doing the hip bump in greeting even before the coronavirus led to a need for it:
Pro: It’s almost like a dance move. When two people both know they’ll be greeting each other with a hip bump, they can have some fun with it.
Con: The trouble is, an unplanned hip bump can be like a non-consensual kiss. And even worse, a hip bump that’s too forceful can be painful and could even knock someone over.
Safety rating: F for Falling down - the worst possible outcome of an overly-hard hip-bump. Only do it if the other party knows you are coming in for the bump and is equally hot to hip-bump with you.

Which, if any of these will catch on? My money's on the wave or the head-nod. But I predict there will there come a day in the far-off future, when the pandemic is a thing of fading memory, and  a new generation will rediscover the joy of a warm handshake or an affectionate cheek-kiss, and in a rush of nostalgia for these of rituals of the past, these full-contact greetings will come back like a tsunami.

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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