This week, I had a pair of awkward interview incidents. To be clear, my sources were enlightening, and the flow of conversation between us was perfectly normal (i.e., slightly awkward but bearable). It was the beginnings and ends of these chats that were out of whack.
At the start of the first, I began to extend my hand during introductions when, belatedly, I realized that reciprocation wasn’t coming. I shoved my hand back in my pocket and forcefully nodded at my interviewees—perhaps a bit too much. The end of the second meeting didn’t go much smoother. As I exited the office, I reluctantly returned an air-elbow-bump, hunching and jerking my shoulder forward.
My experience probably isn’t unique in Washington these days. Long a symbol of trust in civilized society, handshakes are now faux pas in this Quarantine State. With the novel coronavirus spreading throughout King County and beyond, we’ve been advised to keep our germs to ourselves as much as possible, to navigate the line between social distancing and necessity. Governor Jay Inslee’s elbow-bumping like a madman. A Bellevue College board member is advocating for bowing. And then there’s the viral phenomenon (the non-contagious kind) of the “Wuhan Shake,” in which people greet each other via some nifty toe touching.
I fully support the effort to curb the virus’s transmission, but to avoid the proliferation of incongruous greetings (think cringey fist bump-handshake combinations), Seattle needs to settle on a salutation that works for all. Here are more than a handful of potential handshake replacements.
The Nod. My personal favorite. Yes, it didn’t work out great before, but only because I was caught off guard. A quick, firm dip of the head as you say “hello” is pretty standard when you’re passing someone in the hallway, so let’s make it OK in more formal contexts. A deeper bow was once the norm in the U.S., anyway.
The Fist Bump. This would be the easiest to implement. It’s already prevalent in American culture, and it’s more hygienic than the handshake. But just because it’s a safer option doesn’t mean it’s totally safe. If the purpose of all this is to stay healthy, do you really want to risk it by going knuckle-to-knuckle with somebody?
The Footshake. This is where the meaning of “safer” becomes important. Is the “Wuhan Shake” less likely to transmit the virus than a handshake? Yes. Is it more likely to send your uncle sprawling on his back? Also yes. This only works in limber company.
The Elbow Bump. For whatever reason, this has caught on as the de facto alternative to the handshake. It’s more sanitary, but it’s also completely unnatural and potentially painful if you knock ’bows with someone lanky. We can do better.
The Half-Hearted Wave. Full-on waving is absolutely out of the question, but the thing where you casually raise a hand to acknowledge somebody already prevails for many awkward types. Not ideal, but could be worse.
The Head Raise. Only for gym tough guys. Pass.
The Salute. No.