Friday, March 27, 2020

What is the Polite way to Greet Others in our Post-Handshake World? Ask The Manners Doctor

The Manners Doctor, aka Camilla Randall, author of "Good Manners for Bad Times" and "Rx for the Modern Wedding", has agreed to visit this blog once a month to answer some of our questions about contemporary etiquette.

Dear Manners Doctor,

In the era of COVID-19, we are not supposed to shake hands when we meet someone. And obviously, we can’t hug. 

When I greet people now, some stick out their elbows, looking like they’re doing some kind of silly chicken dance; some want to fist-bump like tough guys; and others perform a strange kicking ritual.

What do you think is the politest way to greet people in our post-handshake world?

Want to be Friendly, but Don’t Want the Plague

Dear Want to be Friendly,

The Manners Doctor feels your pain. She does indeed feel like some species of less-than-graceful poultry when she tries to stick out an elbow to bump another.

And she is not terribly fond of making a belligerent-looking fist when greeting a business associate, or kicking her friends and colleagues in the shins.

It is important to be aware why the handshake became a method of greeting. In ancient Greece, men clasped hands upon meeting to show their hands held no weapons. 

The ancient Romans' handshake was more like those unpleasant arm-grabs some men use to show dominance. This forearm grabbing was a way to make sure neither one had a dagger up the sleeve of his tunic.

The actual shaking of hands began in Europe in the Dark Ages, when it is said knights would shake the hand of the other to shake loose any hidden weaponry.  

So a handshake originally meant, “I don't trust you any farther than I can throw you.”  

Perhaps we should take this occasion to permanently adopt a more civilized form of greeting.

The Manners Doctor thinks we should follow the custom of the Japanese, who discovered long before the rest of us that when you are sequestered in a small place—whether a house or an island—it’s always best for everyone to follow proper etiquette to avoid annoying each other.

Or if one is annoyed, one learns to keep quiet about it.

The bow is the Manners Doctor’s preferred form of greeting in these contagious times. It allows for a full six feet of social distancing, and shows good manners. 

A pressing together of the palms in the “Namaste” gesture of South Asia while bowing is also an excellent, polite greeting, although the “Namaste” gesture may not be for everyone, since some feel it has religious connotations.

However, a bow is a simple way of saying, “I do not think myself above you.”

Isn’t that a bit friendlier than, “Let me check to see if you have any weapons.”?

So the Manners Doctor suggests we all adopt the
bow as a form of greeting.

It is an excellent way of avoiding the exchange of germs and viruses, and in her opinion is much superior to impersonating an unwell chicken.

Very Truly Yours,

The Manners Doctor

What about you? What form of handshake substitute are  you using? Do you think we should substitute a bow for a handshake permanently? 


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  1. Fascinating! I like the bow. Great advice, Manners Doctor.

    1. Sue--The Manners Doctor is gratified that you stopped by, and she bows to you.

  2. I love this idea, Ms. Manners Doctor.

    1. Kathy--Thanks. It was my publisher's idea, and at first I was afraid it would take too much time. But with once a month posts, it's isn't taking a big chunk out of my writing schedule. She's such a fun character.