The post-pandemic world: will we never be able to shake hands again?

Under novel coronavirus, people keep a distance from each other to avoid physical contact. After the blockade is gradually lifted, will people start to shake hands again?

Handshakes are everywhere in our society, from strangers shaking hands on their first meeting to billions of dollars in business.

The origins of the handshake vary, but it may have originated in ancient Greece, when two men held out their hands to each other as a sign of peace, indicating that no one was armed.

The handshake may also have originated in medieval European societies, where knights held each other’s hands in an attempt to shake off hidden weapons.

In more recent times, many believe that the ritual of shaking hands was popularized by the Quakers, who believed in equality and therefore held handshakes to symbolize equality of status.

‘The handshake is a symbol of our evolution as a social animal, a tactile animal, a gesture of connection,’ says Cristine Legare, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas.

The culture of the handshake has been around for thousands of years and may not be easily discarded entirely.

No handshake etiquette

However, in human history, there are also many cultures that do not shake hands, such as the Indian namaste, which is widely known in the western world as one of the etiquette of meeting in the east.

One of the most famous incidents in modern China is that when Chris patten, the last governor of Hong Kong, wanted to shake hands with Chinese officials stationed in Hong Kong, they refused to do so.

In Muslim countries, one hand on the chest is also a sign of respect and is part of the etiquette of meeting people.

In Hawaii, people greet each other with the “shaka sign,” which is similar to the six-to-six gesture used by Chinese people. It is often seen in the surfing culture of the United States, and was also frequently used by former President barack Obama, who was born in Hawaii.

In Samoa, people greet each other with “raised eyebrows” and a smile.

Resistance to shake hands

Val Curtis, a behavioral scientist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says shaking hands and kissing on the cheek are part of the greeting because it shows trust enough to risk swapping germs.

In the 1920s, an article in the American Journal of Nursing warned that the hand was the medium of transmission of bacteria, and suggested that Americans bow and bow as the Chinese did at that time.

Before the novel coronavirus outbreak, there were medical recommendations against handshaking. In 2015, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) hospital set up a “no handshaking zone” in its intensive care unit, but the policy lasted only six months before disappearing. But despite the overwhelming medical and scientific evidence supporting the campaign against the handshake, it is still practiced around the world, especially in professional and formal Settings.

No handshake in the future

But now that the novel coronavirus pandemic has prompted a radical rethink, the gesture is likely to fall out of favor in the foreseeable future.

“Frankly, I don’t think we should ever shake hands again,” said Anthony Fauci, a U.S. health expert. “It’s not just that you can prevent novel coronavirus disease, but you can dramatically reduce the transmission of influenza.”

Reaching out to touch is a human instinct, and shaking hands is also based on this psychological factor. It is estimated that the President of the United States shakes about 65,000 hands each year.

‘it’s hard to change your nature,’ says Elke Weber, a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University in the U.S. ‘when there is a major change in society, economy or public health, habits and social customs that have accumulated over time can change, as can the ancient Chinese custom of foot-binding.’

Shaking hands can also be the next custom to be abolished. In addition to the above-mentioned etiquette of clasping hands, bowing, putting one hand on one’s chest and “shaka gesture”, there are many alternatives. For example, bowing, waving, smiling, or nodding your head can all be used in place of a handshake, while tapping your fist, touching your elbow, or touching your foot is not the same as shaking hands, but still involves physical contact.

Shake hands or not

Professor Ligal said the novel coronavirus outbreak brings the cruel reality that the more desperate and stressed we are, the more we rely on physical contact for comfort, which is the way to spread the virus.

Giving up handshakes and rejecting physical contact is unnatural, but far from overreacting, it’s the opposite, says prof weber. “Survival is one of our instincts.”

But let’s not give up hope that we’ll one day be able to shake hands again. As Arthur Markman, another psychology professor at the University of Texas, says, avoiding disease is a human survival instinct, as is living a good social life.

“Maybe we can focus on washing our hands frequently and not touching our faces, instead of eliminating physical contact altogether.” The reality is that for some time to come, we will be facing a new normal of life without physical contact, and we may not even find ourselves shaking hands anymore.