End of the handshake? Coronavirus inspires alternate ways to say hello

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The wave. The namaste. The elbow-bump. The footshake. The “Wakanda forever!”

People around the world are coming up with new substitutes for traditional greetings like the handshake, the hug, the high-five and the cheek-kiss, amid rising concern about the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The virus spreads through tiny water droplets expelled when an infected person coughs, sneezes or exhales, according to the World Health Organization. These droplets can infect a person if they come in contact with the eyes, nose or mouth — and one way they can get there is by hitching a ride during a handshake.

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Health officials around the world are now urging people to find new — and less touchy-feely — ways of saying hello, in hopes of cutting down on droplet transmission between people in their day-to-day lives.

“No handshaking,” Brad Hazzard, the health minister in New South Wales, told Australian reporters on Monday. “It’s very automatic, but don’t do it.” Hazzard also advised people to be aware of the hazards of kissing, and to exercise “a degree of care and caution with whom you choose to kiss.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel got a first-hand taste of the new mindset on Monday, when a cabinet minister waved away her attempt to shake hands at a meeting. Merkel and several other people laughed at the gesture, which played out in front of news cameras.

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“Handshakes are hereby cancelled,” actor Kat Dennings tweeted last Friday, as concerns spread among celebrities and athletes on social media.

The (temporary?) post-handshake era has been evolving rapidly in various cultures and over social media, where many users have been showcasing their hands-free hellos for all to see.

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One of the most popular techniques appears to be the “footshake,” as demonstrated in a brief video with over 2 million views on Twitter. The video shows several young men greeting each other with feet instead of hands.

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Proper “footshake” etiquette seems to include a tap with one foot, followed by a tap with the opposite.

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Several politicians in Nebraska demonstrated another way to say “hello” on Monday, when they greeted each other at a photo op with some (slightly awkward) elbow bumps. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has called for all public officials to use the greeting amid the coronavirus outbreak.

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Many news outlets and social media users in India have been promoting a “namaste over handshake” approach as the best way to avoid spreading the virus. The gesture involves bowing with one’s hands pressed together, fingers pointing up.

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“Time to introduce ‘Namaste’ globally,” one widely-circulated infographic says.

“Namaste is much better,” actor Anupam Kher said in a Twitter video on Monday. “The best way to greet each other is to not shake hands, but to go back to the traditional Indian way of greeting, to say namaste. To put your hands together so you don’t get infected.”

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The MLB’s Minnesota Twins appear to have already hopped on the namaste trend, based on an image they tweeted on Sunday.

Others have called for more tongue-in-cheek options, such as reviving the bow and the curtsy or adopting the arms-crossed “Wakanda Forever” salute from Marvel’s Black Panther film.

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The exact origins of the handshake are muddled, but one common explanation is that it was meant as a sign of good faith between rivals — a way to show that neither person is hiding a weapon that might harm the other person.

That’s not necessarily the case anymore in 2020, because the “weapon” everyone fears is small enough to hide in a kiss, a cough, a hug or a friendly handshake.


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