The flesh press, grip and grin or as it’s most commonly known, the handshake, is falling out of favour around the world.
Humans are withdrawing from the embrace to reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus (COVID-19) and preventing its spread.
Some researchers have traced the gesture as far back as the 5th century B.C. in Greece while others say the tradition began in Medieval Europe. It’s been thought that knights would shake the hands of others to shake loose any hidden weapons.
On Monday (Mar. 2) German Chancellor Angela Merkel was shunned when she attempted to shake the hand of German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer. A video has also been circulating around social media that shows men wearing masks in Asia and greeting each other by tapping their feet instead of shaking hands.
The Guardian newspaper has reported similar variations to the popular gesture around the world. In China red billboards are instructing people to not shake hands, but instead join their own hands together in a sign of greeting. Loud speakers are also telling people to make the traditional gong shou gesture (a fist in the opposite palm) to say hello.
Newspapers in France have been discouraging people from handshaking and kissing people on the cheek and to instead use eye contact as a greeting. The health minister in New South Wales made a statement that asked Australians to exercise a ‘degree of care and caution’ on whom they choose to kiss.
In Spain, the ritual of kissing sculptures of the Virgin Mary leading up to Easter might be banned. During the holy week, locals seeking protection have been known to kiss the hands or feet of Mary and her saints. In Romania the Martisor festival that signifies the beginning of spring will likely see a change this year. In the past men would pass talismanic strings and flowers to women and kiss them. Romania’s secretary of health has asked that the kiss be left out.
Health officials are urging individuals to greet one another with waves, eye contact or even just a pat on the back. The Government of Canada says the virus spreads through respiratory droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes and through close, prolonged personal contact. They recommend that people wash their hands often with soap and water and for at least 20 seconds.
Consistent hand washing shouldn’t be news to most people who have access to clean water and soap. No matter the roots or legacy of the handshake, the act of forced physical expression is archaic and often makes people uncomfortable. One of the most effective forms of communication comes from body language. If you’ve worked in face-to-face customer service you can attest to the wonder of a smile and direct eye contact.
Let’s collectively keep our hands in our pockets, sharpen our smiles and say hello to one another instead.