Opinion

Get rid of handshakes — and not just for public health reasons

I'm with Dr. Fauci on this one

The inexplicably bizarre desire of American liberals to have a grey-haired white man serve as President Trump's public archnemesis (cf. James Comey, Robert Mueller) has reached its apex in the recent elevation of Dr. Anthony Fauci to civilization's last hope. The guy who as recently as the middle of February was insisting that the novel coronavirus posed little threat to Americans and has changed his mind about whether it was more dangerous than seasonal flu is a dedicated and honorable public servant. But he is not actually feuding with the president, at least not publicly, and one wishes that we could have at least one news cycle that does not involve whatever weird complexes lie behind the proliferation of items like the Comey t-shirts and Mueller bobbleheads still available on Amazon.

But you don't need to think that Fauci is infallible to agree with him that handshakes, which we have stopped exchanging on his and other public health officials' advice, should disappear forever. In fact, Fauci would be right about this even if the virus never reached these shores.

This is because handshakes are bad for reasons that have nothing to do with public health. The handshake is an obnoxious gesture. It is never comforting, like a hug, while being just as intrusive. The handshake is not subtle either. Nor is it fraternal. Equals don't shake. In any given handshake there is always a shaker and a person being shaken. Regardless of who actually initiates it, there is a tacit understanding that one of the two people is in a subordinate, even a servile, position, which is why handshakes are required of people who lose sporting contests.

That brings us to Firm Handshake Guy. You know exactly the person I'm talking about. Firm Handshake Guy is that person who squeezes your hand really hard for no reason. He is virtually always over the age of 40, and often older than 60. You know the minute he attempts to crush the sides of your knuckles that you are dealing with someone who has detailed opinions about loud vintage automobiles and owns at least one framed Rat Pack photograph. Firm Handshake Guy is an aesthetic, possibly even a sociology.

But he is also real. Firm Handshake Guy is, in fact, one of the five or so most tedious people in American life, up there with History Channel Hiroshima Explainer ("Did you know murdering civilians saved lives, bub?") and Guy Who Thinks Tebow Deserved More Time in Denver. What all of these people have in common is a certain kind of insistent stupidity, an in-your-face dumbness. The difference is that you can just not talk to Mssrs. Hiroshima and Tebow Defender about just war, the NFL, and kindred subjects. Firm Handshake Guy could be anywhere, and your continued membership in civilization depends upon putting up with his nonsense.

Or at least it does until we replace the handshake with an elegant Japanese-style bow. Not only would bowing allow us to avoid the very real possibility of spreading disease even in non-pandemic seasons, it would put Handshake Guy out of business forever. And it would also make us a politer, gentler, more egalitarian society. The modern bow, so far from either signaling or demanding servility, is simply polite. It is a natural extension of the nod, that humblest and most reassuring of everyday gestures. And it is extremely easy to master. Just bend your waist while keeping your back and neck more or less straight and your feet together, lower your eyes slightly, and keep your hands at your sides. (Women, if they want, can clasp their hands together instead, but it is not necessary.)

Any foreigner who has spent time in Japan will tell you that after a few days bowing becomes perfectly natural. This is to say nothing of the hidden but undeniable exercise benefits of inclining our heads hundreds of times a day. Forget those ridiculous classes where you attempt to do cardio while you answer your morning emails: now you can knock off extra calories while you quietly remind people that you are a civilized human being.

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