Times being what they are, speculation is widespread about how life will be different when the Coronavirus pandemic has run its course. Will things like keeping a social distance still be maintained? Will there be prohibitions of groups of more than 10 people? What will happen to sporting events, church services, concerts, plays, parties, weddings and all the other events where people gather together? What will this latest pandemic do to overall social interactions? Will carrying hand-sanitizer become as widespread as carrying a set of car keys? Will all the germaphobes out there start wearing HAZMAT suits whenever they go outside?
I think life will be very close to normal once a vaccine is available and most people are inoculated against the Coronavirus just like children are vaccinated against things like small pox, polio and other illnesses when they’re young – and we won’t give it another thought. It will just be something people will be required to do just as kids are required to have their “shots” before starting school.
But more importantly, what will happen to closer contact like shaking hands, hugging a friend, or even kisses on the cheek? Speaking of the handshake, have you ever wondered how the custom of shaking hands got started in the first place? Why do we shake hands when we meet someone new or greet an old friend? Well, I did my usual research and I think you’ll find the story very interesting!
Here’s an introduction to handshaking I found on the History Channel, written by Evan Andrews: “The handshake has existed in some form or another for thousands of years, but its origins are somewhat murky. One popular theory is that the gesture began as a way of conveying peaceful intentions. By extending their empty right hands, strangers could show that they were not holding weapons and bore no ill will toward one another. Some even suggest that the up-and-down motion of the handshake was supposed to dislodge any knives or daggers that might be hidden up a sleeve. Yet another explanation is that the handshake was a symbol of good faith when making an oath or promise. When they clasped hands, people showed that their word was a sacred bond.”
One might wonder why the handshake is done with the right hand and not the left. It’s because most people are right-handed and, therefore, the right hand was the weapon hand. The same sort of logic is behind the military salute with the right hand. It goes back the days of knights in armor. The visor protecting the head was customarily raised with the right hand to show that the wearer did not intend to attack another knight he happened to meet under whatever circumstances. The reins of the horse on which the knight was mounted were, ordinarily, held in the left hand leaving the right hand free to raise his visor as a cordial gesture. (I have no idea what left-handed people did in all these situations. My guess would be they rather quickly learned to use their right hands!)
Getting back to the history of shaking hands, Andrews writes, “One of the earliest depictions of a handshake is found in a ninth century B.C. relief, which shows the Assyrian King Shalmaneser III pressing the flesh with a Babylonian ruler to seal an alliance. The epic poet Homer described handshakes several times in his “Iliad” and “Odyssey,” most often in relation to pledges and displays of trust. The gesture was also a recurring motif in the fourth and fifth century B.C. Greek funerary art. Gravestones would often depict the deceased person shaking hands with a member of their family, signifying either a final farewell or the eternal bond between the living and the dead. In ancient Rome, meanwhile, the handshake was often used as a symbol of friendship and loyalty. Pairs of clasped hands even appeared on Roman coins.”
Keep in mind that shaking hands, therefore, has survived dozens of plagues and other pandemics throughout the ages when it probably would have been a good idea for people to have keep a social distance! I suspect handshaking will also survive the Coronavirus, too.
More recently, in the 1600s people considered a “simple handclasp as a more egalitarian alternative to bowing or tipping a hat. The greeting later became commonplace, and by the 1800s, etiquette manuals often included guidelines for the proper handshaking technique. As is often suggested today, the Victorian shake was supposed to be firm but not overly strong. One 1877 guide counseled its readers that, ‘A gentleman who rudely presses the hand offered him in salutation, or too violently shakes it, ought never to have an opportunity to repeat his offense,’” Andrews writes.
Given the times in which we’re living, one solution might be for people to only shake hands when wearing gloves. But historically speaking, it is still considered rude or unfriendly to leave the right-hand glove on when meeting or being introduced to someone. I suppose the fist bump or elbow bump could replace the handshake, but I sincerely doubt it since we’ve been shaking hands for thousands of years.
It has also been suggested that a simple nod of the head could be a replacement for shaking hands, something the Japanese do, but not quite as deep as a bow. Despite all of the forgoing, my bet is that when a vaccination is available, we’ll go right back to shaking hands, just as we have for nearly the last 3,000 years.
That’s – 30 – for this week.