Let’s Shake Hands
By “Awake!” correspondent in West Germany
TO THE observer it seems that some persons simply thrive on shaking hands. They do it when first meeting in the day, even with old acquaintances, and then again when parting. This procedure may even be repeated several times a day if these acquaintances should often cross one another’s path. In countries where this is customary it could be taken as an insult if this manual greeting were overlooked either in coming or in going.
But not everyone is enthusiastic about it. Some say: “Such stiff formality!” “Why can’t a person just be natural?” “How impractical!” “Besides, I think it must be unsanitary spreading all those germs with such close contact!”
Attitudes and customs do differ, don’t they? There are other folks who would prefer kissing or hugging or rubbing noses, or just a simple bow. As long as these greeting customs do not overstep your principles of conscience, why not be adaptable when in another’s country, not ignoring his way of life and expecting him to change to yours? Whatever the form of greeting, it warms us inside when we sense that it is heartfelt and sincere!
Handshaking in Early Times
There are some interesting facets to the matter of handshaking. It is mentioned even in the Bible as being known to the Israelites, although not as a form of greeting. The considerably less inhibited peoples of the Middle East have much more emotional ways of expressing their joys of meeting and pains of parting than by the rather conservative handshake. In Bible times, handshaking or striking of the palms of the hands were gestures employed to express agreement, ratification or confirmation of a contract or bargain. (Ezra 10:19) This gesture is not unknown even at present, it still having had legal value in our great-great-grandfather’s day. The old Germanic peoples also employed it in making agreements. The Bible warns against handshaking in guaranteeing security of a loan for another person.—Prov. 6:1-3; 22:26.
While some say the Romans first began using the handshake as a greeting, evidently it was during the Middle Ages that the handshake became a common custom in Europe. Presenting the hand in a certain predetermined manner also served as a token of identification to indicate belonging to some particular group or guild. Such a distinctive marking of membership in a group or of sharing a particular way of thinking remains in use even today.
And now, would you like to meet a few typical handshakers of our day? Each has his distinguishing grip. The first one we meet will eagerly embrace your gently extended hand with a crunch. You are afraid to move your hand now for fear all the bones are broken and if you are wearing a ring you will nurse bruises for several days.
But not everyone is so full of vitality. For instance, our next friend here. The coolness and dampness you feel when his hand limply and lustlessly dangles in your grip make you gape to see if it is not rather a fish you may have caught. Our third friend is heartier, and his shake, or “pump,” is designed to last awhile.
Of course, there are others who employ the hit-and-miss system. You just never seem to get a proper grip on them, as you discover their hand slipping past your thumb and running up your arm. And perhaps you have met the “I-couldn’t-careless” type who, while holding out his hand to you, has his head busily turned away looking at something else so that as the hands meet there is no meeting of the eyes.
Last is the greatest upholder of the handshaking tradition of them all. If he finds his hands too full or occupied to do it properly, then he will offer you a little finger or an elbow for tradition’s sake.
What was your impression of those just introduced? Some show a definite awareness of the impression they are making by the precise and deliberate way they press their hand into yours. They try to show firmness with graciousness and give an extra little twist as proof of a warm strong personality. Yes, a handshake does tell a lot about a person’s characteristics. But a natural person who does not take himself too seriously is always appreciated.
Being Balanced in Handshaking
Although not being rule-bound, here are a few situations where reason should rule. Perhaps the unaccustomed handshaker is justified in feeling that the habit is impractical when, after entering a room at a gathering, he must undergo the ritual of palm pressing once again each time someone enters anew. And if late to a meeting, or discussion that is already under way, it would be a considerate thing usually to take a seat quietly without feeling the necessity to interrupt to shake everyone’s hand. One might feel it to be rude to overlook someone with this formal greeting of the handshake, but it may be more respectful and considerate to wait for the natural and convenient moment to express one’s joy at seeing one’s friends. And have you ever considered how unappetizing it might seem to some if they are forced to grip one or more unwashed hands during a meal?
If you are a time-saver you may have been annoyed only by the frequency of this social act rather than by the act itself. Take, as an example, the Germans, whose custom of handshaking is held in utmost esteem, but who are now beginning to wonder whether greeting the same person a dozen times a day by shaking his hand may not be going a little too far.
Time magazine (February 17, 1967) made this observation: “Some German personnel managers figure that their employees spend a minimum of 20 minutes a day on the job shaking hands.” Germany’s Expert Committee for Good Manners has expressed itself like this: “Exaggerated handshaking is unappreciated and in fact often makes personal contact more difficult to achieve. It is sufficient to shake hands the first time you meet.”
So, now, trying to be reasonable about using the normal handshake, the simplest suggestion to remember would be: Show heartfelt warmth while using discernment. Then we will have no trouble being natural, instead of blindly following tradition.
Now it is time to say good-bye. But do you say you do not want to do it with a pat on the back or with a kiss or a hug? All right, then, let’s shake hands!