There’s No Shame In Shaking Hands
If someone puts a light hand on my elbow then I’ll notice it. An arm stretched around my shoulder will make me think twice. Step forward and wrap yourself around me — pull me in and hug me firm — I‘ll probably wriggle out of it.
Some people are huggers and some are not. To fall into the second of these categories is not — should not — be shameful, but a preference for merely shaking hands it too often seen as some sort of repression. Maybe even a toxic one.
As a form of greeting, I always liked the handshake, mainly because it’s hard to get wrong. It relies on a little bit of timing, but essentially it’s very simple. Also, as far as physical contact goes, it’s intimate enough to be meaningful whilst also keeping the other person at a literal arms length.
In fact, it has often struck me that one of the easiest things about my growing up — as a boy — was the way a handshake could stand in for anything. Like vanilla, it was agreeably reliable.
In contrast, watching my parents greet my aunts and uncles when they’d visit, I’d see the women sometimes kiss cheeks, sometimes press their cheeks together, sometimes kiss one cheek then the other, sometimes hug, sometimes wrap their hands over one another’s, sometimes walk arm in arm. If one of my aunties approached me with her arms outstretched, I wouldn’t know how to react and would surrender to whatever she greeting she had planned.
On the other hand, my uncles only ever shook my hand. That was it. Moreover, they shook my hand in the exact same way they shook each others’. There was never any variation, no sense of hierarchy or initiation.
This what I learned. When one man meets another man, no matter what the context, they tend to do the same thing. They might be meeting for the first time or they might be old friends, the action is the same. A son greets his father, an employee meets his boss, a coach meets his players, the etiquette is unchanging.
And since I’d always found the finer details of social interaction a tad off-putting, it came as a relief to me to understand that a handshake was both the least and the most expected of me in virtually every situation I was put in. A…