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21st April 2020

Coronavirus : Namaste! Waving goodbye to the handshake?

21st April 2020

Coronavirus : Namaste! Waving goodbye to the handshake?

Joanne Spittles

Posted: 21st April 2020

T: 023 8048 2324

E: Email Me

After the Coronavirus outbreak had started, but prior to full lockdown, it became common not to shake hands when meeting clients or other contacts. Instead I, and other people, started to adopt the “namaste” greeting partially in jest but partly as a serious and respectful way to fill the obvious gap left by a lack of hand-shaking.

When the news of Prince Charles having tested positive for Coronavirus broke, he was shown in a clip from a few weeks prior, laughingly adopting the “namaste” greeting instead of shaking someone’s hand. Too late for him though, and I wonder whether it is any coincidence that both he and Boris Johnson, who meet and shake hands with a lot of people every day, acquired the virus.

The Covid-19 epidemic, and the resulting lockdown, may well leave a legacy in business beyond its medical impact, such as the recognition of the ease at which people can work from home, be paperless, and successfully hold meetings remotely. I wonder whether it may signal the demise of the common handshake?

As a young female professional, starting work in the mid-1990s, I quickly realised that a firm handshake was required – particularly working in the property world where at least 90% of my contacts are men. I do still get caught out occasionally – not just when my hand is crushed in the over-zealous shake of an enthusiastic man, but if I misjudge a shake with a male contact and end up crushing his hand, which I think is probably worse!

With everyone being more aware of the transmission of germs, and general hygiene, is it time to wave goodbye to the handshake?

It is believed that the handshake originates back to the fifth century BC, and it is hypothesised that it was to be a symbol of peace, showing that no weapons were being carried. The Romans went as far as grasping each other’s forearms, to check there was nothing up each other’s sleeves, and the shaking motion was apparently adopted by medieval knights to try and dislodge any hidden weapons.

The Quakers are said to have adopted the practice of shaking hands as it felt more equal than the tipping of a hat. Just as well as I cannot remember last time I wore a hat to work.

In modern times the handshake is generally used as a greeting in business, or to seal a deal. Etiquette differs throughout the world; in the Middle East, a firm handshake is considered rude.

If self-confessed germophobe Donald Trump is correct that a handshake is “barbaric”, what are the alternatives? Because we would need an alternative – as one colleague put it to me, “it serves to disguise that moment of social awkwardness we all experience on meeting someone just before you think of something to say about the weather”.

A fist-bump is too informal, and elbow-taps or (worse) toe-taps are just weird! Kissing on the cheeks is nice and personal, but there is always the “one kiss or two” dilemma and the risk of being left hanging, as a Greek colleague tells me frequently happens, or both going the same way and accidentally kissing the recipient on the lips – speaking from my own experience!

Not that a handshake is immune from social mishap – a colleague recounted that she had a similar experience to Rachel in Friends when going for a handshake and accidentally brushing someone’s crotch!

Namaste, although originally a Hindu greeting, is now used throughout south east Asia and the wider world within Asian communities. I have encountered it as a tourist and like it. It is simple, courteous, effective, and inherently equal – no macho show of strength required.

Would adopting the namaste greeting by the western world amount to cultural appropriation? My view is not. Cultural appropriation occurs when a tradition is used for the purpose of fashion or trend. However, when something is adopted by other cultures because it is inherently better, it can surely only be a unifying, good thing?

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Joanne Spittles

Posted: 21st April 2020

T: 023 8048 2324

E: Email Me