After Covid-19, How Should We Handle the Handshake?

Handshakes, cheek kisses and high-fives are out. What should replace them?

By Jean Rutter
An image from RetroReport

Could Covid-19 change the ancient way we greet one another? Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top expert on infectious disease, has said Americans should not shake hands “ever again.”

The handshake was mentioned in the Iliad and Odyssey, written down around the 8th century BC, and is probably older. Clasping hands may have begun as a peace gesture, proof that the greeters weren't holding weapons.

Customs are changing. People are avoiding handshakes, cheek kisses and high-fives in an effort to reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany was snubbed last month by her interior minister.

Advice to avoid touching isn't new. A 2014 essay in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested a ban on handshakes for health care workers, to prevent the spread of pathogens. The authors suggested alternatives: hand wave, hand on heart, the bow and a namaste gesture.

Here are some others.

-Hat tip
-Air high-five (deliberate miss)
-Rock-paper-scissors gesture
-Chicken dance
-Jazz hands
-Vulcan salute

This article was adapted from a Twitter thread that was created with support from a Brown Institute for Media Innovation grant recognizing the need for accurate information about the Covid-19 virus. Learn something new from history: Subscribe to our newsletter, and follow us on Twitter @RetroReport.