The Last Handshake Amidst The Pandemic

by admin | October 2, 2020 8:33 am

The last time I shook hands with someone was in early March. A friendly fellow, who occasionally came to the CrossFit Citadel gym, stuck his hand out. I shook it, really before thinking. The coronavirus was already in the news, a faraway threat but rapidly drawing closer. After the handshake, I unobtrusively went into the restroom and washed my hands.

The last time I hugged someone besides my Beautiful Mystery Companion occurred the next day, when a woman who I hadn’t seen at the gym in months got out of her car the same time I did. She’s what we call a “hugger” in East Texas. It was good to see her, but, again, a feeling of disquiet washed over me as we entered the gym. I shook the feeling off and got ready to work out. A few days later, I decided it was not safe for me to go to the gym anymore. After reopening, the owner is making every effort to keep his gym safe, but I simply do not want to put me or my BMC at risk. I don’t plan to return until there is a vaccine, doing workouts at home in the interim. I do miss it.

As the months have passed with no end to this pandemic in sight, and flu season on the horizon, I wonder what might never return in terms of our customs and habits.[1]

Handshakes, for example. I read a National Geographic article written in March. An accompanying photograph of a 9th century B.C. stone relief shows an Assyrian king shaking hands with someone from Babylon — nearly 3,000 years ago. The writer surmises the handshake originated as a gesture of peace, to show one was unarmed and to ensure the person on the other end of the handshake had nothing up a sleeve. During past times of epidemics, such as the 1918 flu pandemic, medical experts warned — as they do now — against both handshakes and the French custom of a peck on both cheeks, known as la bise. I never took up the latter habit, never wanted to.

Since I spent much of my adult life largely in the public eye, I shook a lot of hands over the decades — at Rotary meetings, chambers of commerce, dealing with folks at the various newspapers at which I worked. I learned the tactic of getting in the first grip to keep from getting my hand crushed by an overenthusiastic hand shaker. But hand-shaking was a practice I only tolerated. I far preferred the fist bump common in gyms. It is less obtrusive and doesn’t leave one with a palm moistened with someone else’s sweat.

When this pandemic passes, it is fine with me if the handshake does not return. My preference for greetings is the wai, practiced in Thailand and elsewhere: a slight bow with one’s palms pressed together as if saying a prayer.

Further, I have gotten so used to wearing a mask during my rare trips to stores (curbside is still our preference), that I am not sure I’ll ever feel comfortable going in a store without wearing a mask. I know some folks will scoff, and some never wear masks — even when required. That is their benighted choice. I just avoid these folks like the plague, pun intended.

Citizens in East Asian countries, such as Japan, have been wearing masks in public for decades. It is almost certainly not a coincidence that the death rate from COVID-19 in Japan is one-fiftieth the rate in the United States. The number of total cases per million people in Japan is less than 3 percent the total per million in the United States. That is according to the coronavirus dashboard I follow. ([2])


Self-serve buffets are likely going to go away forever. Restaurants that once allowed customers to heap portions of General Tso’s chicken and fried rice on their plates, followed by another patron handling the same pair of tongs, now have employees parcel out portions. That is more labor intensive but both safer and likely cuts down on food waste. I have never been a fan of buffets, so this has no effect on me. My late parents would be in mourning. My dad in particular loved the long-gone Ryan’s and Golden Corral. When in town, I would politely accompany them but haven’t been back, nor do I plan to.

Then there is flying on airplanes, attending concerts or athletic events, or going to the movies. Again, these are personal choices we all will have to make when things return to “normal.”

If normal ever truly returns.

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