Like many of you, I have taken extreme precautions over the last couple months to keep myself and my family safe. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was in disbelief. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, so I pretty much went about my business thinking “its just the flu.”
I live in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. It just so happens that the county in which I live had one of the highest counts of COVID cases in the U.S. and as our hospitals filled up and people started getting sick and even dying, it became all too real. I quickly changed how I thought and got serious about personal hygiene.
Fast forward a few months and while things are definitely better, there are still cases of COVID all around me. I venture out, of course, but I have become hyper aware of my surroundings and of my personal space and am very, very careful what I touch and NEVER touch my face without hand sanitizer or washing my hands. My family has been fortunate to have not had any illnesses, in part I’m sure because we are being careful.
Last week, we sold one of our vehicles to a local car dealership. We arrived at the dealership and entered the showroom, fully masked and careful not to touch anything. The salesman I had been working with approached and greeted me with a smile, extended his hand and out of sheer reflex, I stuck mine out too and we shook hands. As soon as he grasped my hand, I realized with horror what I had just done. I looked over at my wife and she had a look of “what did you just do” on her face. The salesman finished his greeting and excused himself to get the paperwork started. I stood staring at my hand and then started looking for hand sanitizer. After a healthy dose of sanitizer, I reflected on how automatic my response had been.
In the United States, the business world revolves around the hand shake. It is used as a greeting, to consummate a business deal, a way of saying sorry and extending an olive branch and used in so many other ways. In this climate where we need to be careful to protect ourselves, could the handshake be dead? We are in the midst of the changing of a tradition.
The handshake dates back to the 5th century in Greece. It was a symbol of peace, showing that neither person was carrying a weapon. The world was an unsavory place back then and a handshake affirmed that you intended no harm. Over time, it became a polite greeting and even became an expression in business that you would keep your word.
Many cultures around the world use greetings other than a handshake. In the Indian culture, they clasp their hands together as if in prayer and say the word namaste (nah-ma-stay), which is a sign of respect and greeting. It is generally spoken while bowing slightly. This non-contact form of greeting is used not just in Indian cultures but all throughout Asia. It has evolved as a standard form of greeting in a region where touch by strangers is considered inappropriate.
Many consider the “head dip” as the “new” handshake. It has become popular among people who want no contact at all but want to extend a greeting to friends, co-workers and others.
Yaniv Masjedi, chief marketing officer at Nextiva, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based provider of communications software says its a more subtle version of a head nod. “Honestly, a lot of people are great at this already. It would be the same knowing head nod you do with friends across a room—an acknowledgement that you saw each other but no more than that,” Masjedi said. “As a greeting and a goodbye, I think it would be a great alternative in both business and personal settings. And much less awkward than a close-proximity wave.”
One of the most popular techniques seems to be the “footshake,” as demonstrated in this brief video with over 2 million views on Twitter. The video shows several young men greeting each other with feet instead of hands.
Proper “footshake” etiquette seems to include a tap with one foot, followed by a tap with the opposite.
Another popular alternative is an “elbow bump.” This informal greeting has gained wide use, including among high ranking politicians. According to ABC News, “Everyone from high-powered political leaders and health officials to professional athletes have taken on the tactic to safely say hello without making too much contact.”
Dr. Dena Grayson, a physician and biochemist who studies pandemic threats, told ABC News she’s a huge proponent of the inventive introductions.
“There’s so many videos circulating all over the world of people doing the foot taps and elbow bumps and I think it’s fantastic,” she said. “I think elbow bumps are a great alternative to handshakes because you really can’t do that right now.”
Ultimately, only time will tell if the handshake will survive. In my opinion, I think it might take a back-seat to the other greetings but in the end, it’s too ingrained in us as a society to completely disappear. In the meantime, embrace these new methods of greeting while they last and while they are really needed during this time when we need to be especially careful.