May 4, 2009

The Lamentable Downfall of the Handshake

Filed under: Uncategorized — kevinocoin @ 8:06 am

I lament the downfall of the handshake.  It used to be that people understood the value of this gesture and knew how to deliver a good one.  But no more, it seems, save in business circles, where the handshake still reigns as a symbol of good faith and remains as important as polished shoes and a wrinkle-free shirt.  If handshakes are given at all anymore in general public interaction (they are often replaced either with a pat on the back, or maybe even no contact at all — simply a nod of recognition), there is no guarnatee of the quality of the shake.  Instead, misconcpetions about the shake and flagrant violations of handshake etiquette abound.

Here are my top eight handshake pet peeves:

8) Sweaty palms: This is rather unpleasant, not least because it is unexpected.  Some of you (especially those who experience this problem) may think me cruel to include on this list something that is more of a condition than a habit, but the fact is that people will still notice it and make a judgment.  However, this graces the bottom of my list because of the some-times medical nature of this handshake infraction.

7) The wrong-hander: So you’re juggling a stack of books, a coffee cup, and various other items, and what turns out to be most convenient as your struggle to shift your load is to extend your non-dominant hand for a quick shake (which is the handshake equivalent of a bashful peck on the cheek), and then withdraw it back to stabilize the teetering tower of texts and the Starbucks that threatens to topple from its summit.  Despite the fact that most people will understand that you don’t want to drop everything, this still sends the signal that you do not value the handshake.

6) The Cool Guy: This is the person who adds to a regular shake by turning the hand upward and grasping the thumb, sliding the hand backward, offering his fist as if he were playing rock-paper-scissors, and then asking you to “pound it.”  Other things may follow.  This is fine if two people are at least decently acquaitned with each other, but it’s major flaws are that some people do not have a dark enough skin tone to pull it off without looking awkward at best and ridiculous at worst; and, depending on what is added onto the end, it is unexpected, and there is that awkard silence where you have to decide what the person actually wants you to do with their hand.  

5) The Crusher: I think we have all been on the recieving end of this one — a guy who either doesn’t know his own strength or is just being a jerk (though he may think he is merely being funny).  Not cool, man.

4) The Unending Shake:  This culprit, rather than going in for the standard 1-3 pumps and making a clean break, retains the hand for what seems an interminable amount of time.  This person may either mindlessly continue the shake, accumulating scores of pumps, or simply remain clasping the hand after the shake has stopped in order to keep you prisoner while he or she discusses something you care very, very little about.  This is especially irksome or disheartening when mixed with sweaty palms. 

3) The Double-hander: Here is a person who wants to shake your hand everytime as if you are a dear old friend.  Yes, there is a time and place for this among those with whom we are engaged in heartfelt conversation and/or those whom we wish to console, but this is NOT a first-time handshake variation.  It consists of going in for a normal shake and then placing the other hand on top in a double-lock and applying gentle pressure, as if to say, “I am so glad to see you, dearie.”

2) The limp-wrister: What do I need to say about this one?  This is really just sloppiness or laziness.  Most people who are shy or feel themselves lacking in self-c0nfidence will often pull this one, and so it is typically accompanied by downcast eyes, but you don’t need to be a raving extrovert to execute a decent handshake.  And a smile and eye contact are a part of the handshake package.  

1) Just the fingers: The is quite possibly the worst of the lot.  A true handshake means clasping palms, but some people seem to think that it is acceptable just to offer their fingers.  This a gross infraction of all handshake etiquette.  I would not even call it a handshake, and is worse that not extending your hand for a shake at all.   

If you find yourself falling into any of these traps, I beg you, be mindful of it.  A handshake often goes along with a first impression, and you don’t get a chance to make another one.

The uneven nature of handshakes is perhaps most painfully obvious when each person exhibits a different faux-pas.  The person who offers just the fingers may be seriously injured by the crusher, and the wrong-hander is most likely to drop or spill things (possibly all over ther other person) if said other person turns out to be a fan of the unending shake.

I am in the business of handshakes; it’s what I do every Sunday morning.  And I want to be proud of the handshake that I offer, because I represent my church and I want to provide them with an experience full of energy and attention to detail, and it all starts with a smile and a handshake.


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