Nice To Meet You, But How To Greet You? #NoHandshake Leaves Businesspeople Hanging | WCAI

Nice To Meet You, But How To Greet You? #NoHandshake Leaves Businesspeople Hanging

Mar 12, 2020
Originally published on March 12, 2020 8:21 pm

The handshake, a staple of business meetings, is under siege. The coronavirus is reshaping social and workplace norms, so keeping one's distance is now the polite thing to do.

Mike Sandifer, a Realtor based in Bethesda, Md., is practicing this new, emerging etiquette. He typically offers an "elbow bump," nudging people gently with his arm. But Sandifer has to fight the deeply ingrained instinct to extend his hand.

"You know, people from the South are kind of touchy-feely. That's sort of our nature," he says. Plus, he's in real estate. "We are a handshaking crowd."

Hand-washing has become a global obsession, reminding Sandifer of his mother constantly telling him to sing the ABC's while doing so to ensure they were sufficiently cleansed.

Virus and disease shaped Sandifer's childhood. In the 1960s, his father tended to polio patients in iron lungs, and his mother always wore gloves — for fashion, but also for hygiene.

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Now, everyone's preaching hand hygiene. And that's made the handshake taboo. England's Premier League has banned them during soccer matches. German Prime Minister Angela Merkel was left hanging after her interior minister denied her outstretched hand. This week, the Dutch prime minister announced a no-handshake rule, then promptly turned and shook a health official's hand. He then apologized.

So what replaces the handshake? That's up for grabs, so to speak. There's the fist bump. Or the elbow bump. Or a prayer gesture, which Sandifer likes.

"The namaste is sort of a nice ... . I think that that's multicultural," he says. Asian cultures — which typically bow instead of handshake — also strike a humble and nice tone, he says.

But the lack of consensus has made greeting people bewildering and, frankly, a bit awkward, and etiquette experts agree.

Thomas Farley, a New York-based etiquette consultant, says he saw this in full effect over the weekend, when he attended several hands-free greetings, including a birthday party where the host posted a sign reading: "This is a hug and kiss-free zone."

That was a coronavirus first for Farley.

"What I liked about it, honestly, was it took some of the awkwardness out of it so that the ground rules were there so that everybody could not feel like the bad person," he says.

At another party later that same day, people traded elbow bumps and foot shakes — known also as "the Wuhan shake," after the virus's epicenter. That was weird, Farley says, because this was a house where shoes are left at the door. "That made foot-to-foot contact a little bit perhaps more intimate than might be if you were actually wearing shoes," he says.

The coronavirus culture is now forcing Farley to rethink how he teaches business etiquette. One core element had been the perfect handshake: Not flimsy — but not a death grip — and certainly not clammy.

"Now, of course, we're suddenly thrust into this new era," he says, although even the new era has its limits for Farley.

"To elbow bump or chest bump. It's just ... it's not professional," he says in a tone tinged with disdain.

His personal preference? "As a Star Trek fan, I love the 'live long and prosper' greeting with the split fingers."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

That staple of social norms, the handshake, is under siege. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports on how the coronavirus is reshaping etiquette.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: I contacted Mike Sandifer after seeing his post about alternatives to the handshake. When we meet up, he greets me with an outstretched elbow.

Hi.

MIKE SANDIFER: Nice to meet you.

NOGUCHI: Nice to meet you. I guess...

SANDIFER: Bump, bump, bump.

NOGUCHI: After nudging me with his elbow, he scans the lobby.

SANDIFER: Where's the restrooms?

NOGUCHI: Do you see there, where the hand sanitizer is?

SANDIFER: Yeah.

NOGUCHI: Hand-washing has become a global obsession. It reminds Sandifer of what his mother drilled into him.

SANDIFER: Did you wash your hands before dinner? Did you wash your hands after dinner?

NOGUCHI: Everyone's preaching hand hygiene, and that's made the handshake taboo, as in #NoHandshake. German Prime Minister Angela Merkel was left hanging after her interior minister denied her outstretched hand. This week, the Dutch prime minister announced a no-handshake rule then promptly turned and shook a health official's hand. He later apologized. Sandifer is a realtor and relates to the deeply ingrained instinct to extend a hand.

SANDIFER: You know, people from the South are kind of touchy-feely. We are a handshaking crowd.

NOGUCHI: But virus and disease also shaped Sandifer's childhood. In the 1960s, his father attended to polio patients in iron lungs, and his mother always wore gloves for fashion but also for hygiene.

SANDIFER: She had beautiful gloves.

NOGUCHI: The sort of, like, "Downton Abbey"-type gloves?

SANDIFER: Oh, she had gloves of all kinds. They were, like, knitted.

NOGUCHI: So what replaces the handshake? That's up for grabs, so to speak. There's the fist bump or a prayer gesture.

SANDIFER: The namaste is sort of a nice - I think that that's multicultural, and it's around the world.

NOGUCHI: You know, it's funny because my parents are from Japan. So in Asian cultures, you don't have a handshake. You bow.

SANDIFER: No, no. My grandmother was born in Japan. That's what she taught us - is that when you met people, you bow.

NOGUCHI: The lack of consensus has made greeting people bewildering and, frankly, a bit awkward. Even etiquette experts agree.

THOMAS FARLEY: So I am Mister Manners.

NOGUCHI: Thomas Farley is a New York-based etiquette consultant. His weekend was full of hands-free greetings, including at a birthday party.

FARLEY: The host actually posted a sign which said, this is a hug-and-kiss-free zone.

NOGUCHI: That was a coronavirus first for Farley.

FARLEY: And what I liked about it, honestly, was it took some of the awkwardness out of it so that the ground rules were there so that everybody could not feel like the bad person.

NOGUCHI: At another party, people traded elbow-bumps and foot-shakes, except that was weird, Farley says, because this was a house where shoes are left at the door.

FARLEY: That made foot-to-foot contact a little bit more intimate than it might be if you were actually wearing shoes.

NOGUCHI: Farley says he's now rethinking how he teaches business etiquette. One core element had been the perfect handshake - not flimsy but not a death grip and certainly not clammy.

FARLEY: That's the before. Now, of course, we're suddenly thrust into this new era.

NOGUCHI: But even the new era has its limits for Farley.

FARLEY: To elbow-bump or chest-bump, it's just - it's not professional.

NOGUCHI: So what's your personal favorite?

FARLEY: I got to tell you, as a "Star Trek" fan, I love the live long and prosper greeting with the split fingers.

NOGUCHI: Back with realtor Mike Sandifer, as he gets up to leave, we chat about upcoming plans.

SANDIFER: I got - my birthday's next week.

NOGUCHI: Oh, well, happy early birthday.

SANDIFER: Thank you.

NOGUCHI: Don't blow out the candles, I guess. What are you going to do - like, snuff them out?

SANDIFER: I - yeah, no. I'm - well...

NOGUCHI: Then he opens the door, gives me another elbow-bump and we part ways.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.

SANDIFER: See, normally, I would've given you a big old hug. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.