In Defence Of The Handshake

Why Britain isn't ready to take on the high five or fist bump

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So scientists at Aberystwyth University are calling for the handshake to be replaced by the more hygienic fist bump or high five.

Something to do with a test which ‘proved’ a traditional handshake transferred 10 times as many E-Coli bacteria as a palm slap and 20 times more than a fist bump.

Apparently, if we embraced the fist pump as a nation, it could dramatically reduce the spread of superbug infections and pandemics.

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Well, let’s knock this talk on the head right now.

Some things are more important than the health, wellbeing and preservation of the human race. Like, a man’s social dignity.

It’s taken us several hundred years to find some international common ground for minimising social awkwardness when meeting strangers.

While the handshake remains fraught with issues like clamminess, limp hand syndrome, the alpha crush, and simple poor technique (finger squeezers, I’m talking to you), it’s the best we’ve got.

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When the handshake goes wrong, it’s only the two involved who know. The shame is private and repressed. When a fist bump or high five fails, there's no hiding place.

To attempt to implement a cross-society fist bump mandate in these shores is tantamount to crazy talk and strikes at the very fabric of British life.

Firstly, there’s a whole new protocol of etiquette and nuance to develop and learn: launch angle, pump intensity and eye contact to name just a few. Throw in the basic requirements of coordination and above-average enthusiasm necessary to pull one off, and it could take centuries before Britons are able to face a social greeting without dread.

Just look at what happened last week when David Cameron strayed from the safety of a handshake with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. This is not to be taken lightly.

There’s also the cultural question of the message each greeting conveys. The handshake suits us. It’s a flexible, low-key “I’m here, you’re here, thank god that’s out of the way” kind of thing.

A fist bump, on the other hand, is “as American as apple pie", according to Scott Williams, described in the New York Times as a self-appointed world ambassador for the fist bump, which traces its history from American biker culture through to baseball. "It’s an attaboy," he told the paper, "When you give someone a fist bump, you’re telling them, Let’s go do this.”

To which the natural British response is, let’s go do what exactly?

I once had the chance to meet the Dalai Lama (a good namedrop I admit) in India during a public audience which His Holiness occasionally hosts. On witnessing the countless different methods of international greetings on show, I was so overcome with etiquette anxiety that I tried to bow instead of shake his hand.

Trouble is I missed the chance to actually look the 74th manifestation of the Lord Buddha in the eye in the process. Proof that bad things can happen when you mess with the handshake. Let's try washing our hands instead.

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