Is the art of the handshake as a way of introduction gone forever?
I started to ponder this question a few weeks ago when I was interviewing painters to freshen up my new abode. As each one politely came to my door, there was no formal greeting, no hand thrust forward as a way of introduction, no level of firmness in the grip to measure the level of, well, everything there is to tell about a person.
There was an awkward bobbing of heads, an exchange of names, and then an entrance granted so the bidding for the job could begin. I did not hold these reputable painters at fault; I was just as awkward as they were. It seems the formality of the handshake has gone to the wayside, all but forgotten during the post-pandemic days.
I have to admit, I kind of miss it.
Not only did a handshake give me the opportunity to meet and greet someone, to look them straight in the eye and assess them, but it also gave me the chance to make my first impression on someone else. As a woman, I was always trying to impress with the quality of my handshake – firm, self-assured, steady.
Today, we do not even want to make physical contact with one another less we have to immediately wash or sanitize our hands.
Once I realized this was a pattern, the no-shaking-of-hands, I could not comfortably bring myself to be the first to thrust my hand into the short space between us. What if he did not reciprocate and my hand was left floating in the air like a dead fish in water? What if the situation became so awkward that he would not take the job, even if I definitely wanted this company to drag their ladders, drop cloths, and paint brushes into my home?
Better to play it safe. My arms – and hands – stayed safely by my side, and I used them instead to hold the door open and allow entrance into my home.
Once this pattern was established, I could not break it – or shake it. Gee, I could not even remember the last time I shook someone’s hand! Clearly people no longer expect it as a form of introduction and etiquette. We have become an informal, casual society.
Of course, I turned to the World Wide Web to find out more because I am the curious type. What I learned is that the handshake may have originated as a gesture of peace (love that!). Grasping hands as a greeting indicated proof that no one was concealing a weapon up their sleeve, literally! By slightly shaking the clasped right hands up and down, a concealed knife or weapon would be dislodged.
Another theory suggests by shaking hands it demonstrated good faith, that the person making the promise or offer was not only striking a deal but creating a bond of trust.
In modern times the handshake became part of the business world signifying an introduction, trust, and interest. This basic gesture could both begin and conclude a business transaction or serve as a greeting and a farewell.
However, once the Coronavirus hit we started elbow bumping instead, and that seemed to be the end of the handshake as we know it. No touching, no squeezing, no kissing. New rules.
While it may seem rude not to shake someone’s hand, it has become acceptable. The norm for a new generation. In retrospect and after reading how this long-standing part of our culture became obsolete, I should not have been surprised by the painters’ greeting at my front door. The absence of the handshake did catch me off guard, although it did not change the rapport or the conversation I had with painters.
Instead, it made me long for simpler times when one could comfortably reach out to another person, acknowledge the greeting with a personal touch, a real touch…a firm handshake.