Once, it was a sign of peace. Now the child-catcher in chief is turning it into a weapon
Next Thursday is national handshake day, in the US at least – a day no one observes, or if they do, no one notices. Handshakes are boring, right? Men in suits, sealing a deal. Politicians playing for the camera. The escape hatch of awkward Britons, unsure whether two kisses are called for, or a kiss and a hug, and then bottling it altogether. Who cares? I’ll tell you – I care. As a teen, my social goals revolved around attaining an elaborately choreographed, best friends’ handshake – practised yet insouciant, a finger-slapping, synchronous back and forth with over-the-shoulder detail, and explosive sound effects. It is still all I want, and I have widened the remit to include it in my relationship and career goals, too.
Originally, the handshake was a greeting that allowed parties to check no one had a dagger up their sleeve. (Imagine life in the old days: “Great to see you! You’re not going to stab me, are you? Let’s drink, and slosh wine between our cups, to check we’re not trying to poison each other. Nice to catch up.”) The latest research suggests handshaking is a way to assess sexual compatibility and competition, as we frequently sniff our hands after shaking. I think I would find a dagger less unsettling.
The future looks dark for the handshake, too. It has been co-opted as a display of dominance in business. I think self-consciously “strong” handshakes are creepy. Are receivers meant to be impressed, confused into believing they are meeting Optimus Prime? Yet there are hundreds of articles on the art of “power shakes”. Place your hand palm down over your opponent’s, so they are forced into the submissive position. For photographs, stand on the left, so your right arm crosses your body, accentuating the bicep. Tips on the double palm grasp, when to encroach the wrist. Footwork, strength and length. Study the rules, win the game. The game of saying hello.
The nuclear display of this arseholery belongs, of course, to the US’s child-catcher in chief. Watching Donald Trump shake hands with heads of state is to witness the worst of the handshake. The unbalancing yank, the patronising pat. He is unpredictable, too – shaking with Japan’s Shinzō Abe for 19 hideous seconds, but refusing Angela Merkel’s offer entirely. On a tour of the White House, he held Theresa May’s hand as if showing her a crab in a rock pool. I admit to enjoying the countertactics leaders use. Boxing-trained Justin Trudeau holds Trump’s shoulder, to crush his yank-nonsense. Gritty little Emmanuel Macron digs in, pumping harder and longer until all their teeth fall out. (They went to 30 seconds on Bastille Day, before going in for another round. Not quite Thriller in Manila, but possibly the Embarrass at Paris.) India’s prime minister Modi nestles in for a daddy bear hug, a disorienting move of his own. This is my primary engagement with politics now. To be fair, I think it’s Donald’s, too.
If there is anything notable about your own technique, you’re doing it wrong. Maybe the best handshake involves no contact. Last week’s world handshake day – not to be confused with national handshake day – is a different idea. Everyone who can puts their hand in the sea, or a sea-bound river, as a way of connecting with others doing the same across the world. Wishy-washy to some, but I like it. Equality and goodwill are what handshakes symbolise, and what they should feel like. Feels as if we are running low on both.
Read more: www.theguardian.com