Protecting public health means waving goodbye to this custom.
The humble handshake ‒ time-honoured tradition that, let's be honest, no job interview or networking event would really feel complete without. Firm, brief and coupled with ample eye-contact, it rounds off what (hopefully) was a stellar interview performance or the start of a fruitful professional relationship.
But alas, no more.
As Britain cautiously emerges from its coronavirus lockdown and the jobs market splutters back to life, a new non-contact method of greeting will have to be found. Read on for a round up of the best handshake alternatives fit for the post-pandemic world.
Why handshaking is now a big no-no
When an outbreak of bubonic plague engulfed Britain in 1493, King Henry VI banned kissing as a means to curb the contagion. Today's government hasn't gone quite so far as to ban handshakes entirely, but the advice is clear: Avoid them wherever possible.
The reasoning behind this is simple (and much the same as it was over 500 years ago). Virus particles pass easily from person to person with physical contact. If COVID-19 cases are to continue to fall in the UK, handshakes shouldn't be making a comeback anytime soon.
This, unfortunately, might lead to a few awkward encounters, like having to politely decline the out-shot hand of a would-be employer. But for the greater good, it's got to be done. And besides, there are plenty of alternatives to tide you over, such as …
Another mainstay of human communication, waving is an obvious replacement for the handshake. It's familiar, unobtrusive and most importantly, can be conducted at a distance (ideally two or more metres away, in the UK).
It can, however, feel a bit odd when done in close proximity to the other person ‒ it's evolved as a longer-distance salutation, after all.
Still, if dialled down (no emphatic elbow-work needed), a subtle wave just about gets the job done.
This one might sound a bit medieval, but bowing ‒ when performed correctly ‒ can comfortably replace the customary handshake.
We're not talking about some grand act of reverence that involves an exaggerated bend at the waist and graceful hand gestures. Rather, approach it as an understated motion with the head, neck and shoulders to demonstrate your acknowledgement of the recipient.
A slight bow has an air of professionalism and thus can work well in a formal setting like a job interview.
Hand on heart
If you're looking for a slightly more personal gesture, the hand-on-heart greeting is a good option. It's a pretty intuitive motion: With an open palm, take your right hand and place it on the upper left of your chest, where your heart is.
By involving your heart, this action sends more affectionate signals to the recipient, so it is effective when dealing with someone you are particularly familiar with or have an emotional connection too. For that reason, it's ideal for showing gratitude, but maybe not so appropriate when interacting formally.
The elbow bump
A bit of a newcomer on the block, the elbow bump has been popularised by none other than Prime Minister Boris Johnson himself.
It's a curious one because the motion involves getting as close to the recipient as a regular handshake. Importantly, however, unlike a handshake, the elbow bump involves no skin-to-skin contact and uses a part of the body (the elbow) that is unlikely to come into contact with the eyes, nose or mouth ‒ areas where the virus can enter the body.
So, when coupled with a mask, it can be a fun way of greeting someone. And owing to its quirky nature, the elbow bump can serve as an effective ice-breaker in a formal situation.
None of these options is perfect, and at first, all might feel a little forced. But we're living in a brave new world where certain old customs ‒ the handshake included ‒ just aren't fit for purpose.
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