As government officials proposing “indefinite” mask mandates want to keep forcing us to wear masks forever, I’ve long feared another casualty of COVID-19 rules would be permanent: the handshake.
It’s a staple of every introduction, every Sunday morning before church starts, every interview or agreement or congratulation. It’s cliche but true that you can tell a lot about people by the way they shake your hand: a confident grip, eye contact, an accompanying smile.
But the inimitably patronizing czar of flip-flopping known as Dr. Anthony Fauci told us last year to get rid of the handshake for good, in what was evidently an overestimation of how much the American people will listen to his orders. “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you,” Fauci told the Wall Street Journal. “As a society, just forget about shaking hands,” he said in a separate interview. “We’ve got to break that custom.”
“Some think it was always a bad greeting,” NPR reminded us in a podcast the same month. Elana Rabinowitz, a guest on the podcast, has complained the handshake is “a man’s thing” that is “reminiscent of an outdated regime and old boys’ club.” Drawing a connection to the “Me Too” movement, she added, “a forced handshake is an imposition.”
Rabinowitz passive-aggressively derided her last pre-COVID handshake — from “a polite stranger offering up his hand in the neighborhood, introducing himself to me with the words, ‘If you ever need anything, let me know’” — as “a simple act of kindness that may have infected me.”
But contrary to the complaints and instructions from people like Rabinowitz and Fauci, the handshake hasn’t been replaced with the awkward elbow-bump, or the namaste bow Emerson College professor Tulasi Srinivas suggested to NPR. Many Americans have spent the last year missing the normality of human touch, not looking for new ways to get rid of it.
Flinching away from a handshake isn’t just physical. When you treat someone like he’s too germy to touch, it’s impossible not to internalize a small sense of that defensiveness or even disgust
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