In COVID-19 Times, Ditch the Handshake | Nat Geo Traveller India

In COVID-19 Times, Ditch the Handshake

Nat Geo readers worldwide are suggesting new greetings amid the coronavirus pandemic. | By David Beard  
In Times of Coronavirus, Ditch the Handshake for These Alternatives
Actor Leonard Nimoy originated the Vulcan salute on the 1960s television series Star Trek. Photo By: CBS/Getty Images

Air kisses. Namaste. The Star Trek-inspired Vulcan salute. The Kiwi nod. And no gosh-darned elbows. These are among scores of suggestions by our readers all around the world to replace the germ-laden handshake.

The sudden change in tradition, recommended by health officials, has affected everything from churches worldwide, where handshakes were integral, to some Maori people of New Zealand, who had traditionally rubbed noses in greeting.

Nat Geo’s Debra Adams Simmons obviously touched a nerve when she raised the question in the Monday newsletter. It appears we all are struggling with social decorum, even questioning a tradition that goes back to ancient Greece, as we seek to avoid the deadly outbreak.

Air kisses are the answer, says Dave Sharpe of Toronto, one of nearly 100 people sending emails in the first hours after the newsletter ran: “Fist pumps seem so ‘locker room’ and elbow bumping is just plain dumb. But blowing a kiss at least delivers a fondness and affection that is well understood. Even between male friends, it might just help to break down some of those churlish inhibitions some men seem to have about showing some soul.”


“NO ELBOW BUMPS,” emphatically agrees Angie Garcia Johnson. “Aren’t we being told to sneeze and cough into our elbows?

Anna Wego of Auckland suggests the Kiwi nod: “I think a small head incline (as was done in the past) is a good substitute.” Members of New Zealand’s Ngāti Kahungunu branch of the Maori people have replaced a traditional hongi greeting—essentially pressing noses together—with each person instead tilting back their head and raising eyebrows, writes Margot Macphail.

Several readers prefer the finger-separating Live-Long-and-Prosper salute of Leonard Nimoy’s Dr. Spock on Star Trek. (Here’s how it began). In these uncertain days, both “live long” and “prosper” resonate!

Other readers advise us to bow or to hold our palms together in greeting. “No touching, no contact but instead a motion of respect,” writes Don Uyeshima. Even some Quakers, for whom hand-shaking was key part of a meeting service, replaced that with a Namaste greeting before gatherings were suspended, wrote Karin McAdams, a member of the Penn Valley Quaker Meeting in Kansas City, Missouri.

Reader Jody Wall prefers something similar. “One greeting that I like the thought of when coming upon someone I know,” Wall writes, “is to put my hand to my heart.”

A prototypically American howdy is offered by reader James Henrie. He pictures a High Noon scenario, standing some distance from your encounter. “Play cowboy by raising left, right or both hands in the shape of a handgun, point at your encounter slowly raising and lowering the ‘handgun barrel’ to acknowledge your encounter’s presence. This sends a recognition message in a non-offensive way,” Henrie says. “Works for me!”

Reader Laura Lee Klump may not go for pretend gunfights, but she agrees that ditching the hand pump is just common sense—and an improvement for humanity.

“Isn’t it the most polite thing to do these days to not shake hands but rather, smile at each other, stand apart, and communicate with our hearts rather than our hands?” Klump asks.


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