The coronavirus may have pushed the handshake into extinction. According to a recent survey by YouGov of more than 23,000 US adults, less than half of Americans say they will go back to shaking hands after the COVID-19 pandemic. But if you’re a professional who regularly interacts with clients, contacts and coworkers during your work week, you might be wondering: How will we greet each other at meetings and events in a post-coronavirus future? We’ve compiled 20 alternatives to handshakes to help you navigate our new social landscape and prevent the spread of germs at your events.
- Just say hello
- All good Head Nod (affirming downward nod)
- East Coast Wave (raise eyebrows and upward head tilt)
- Tip your hat
- Tap feet
- Bump elbows
- Jim & Pam Air-five
- Take a bow
- Peace Sign
- Finger Guns / Snap & flick
- Namaste or yoga bow
- Vulcan salute
- Shaka sign (hang loose)
- Hand on your heart
- Eye contact and a smile
Why do we shake hands?
Experts aren’t sure exactly when handshaking originated, by which culture, or for what reason—Some believe the Ancient Greeks originated the gesture as a sign of peace, to show that their hands held no weapons; others believe the Ancient Romans clasped each other’s sleeves to check for hidden weapons.
The handshake may also be the ancestor of the high five, which is believed to have originated sometime in the 1970’s among sports players. While it’s hard to imagine a world before the high five, it wasn’t so long ago that this alternative to shaking hands was brand new!
However handshaking came to be, in the modern United States, it is a standard greeting among new acquaintances and business contacts. We shake hands to say hello. A newborn baby or a promotion at work may warrant a ‘congratulations’ handshakes. We begin or end business agreements or transactions with handshakes, too.
In some countries, like Morocco or some parts of the United Kingdom, a handshake may also be accompanied by a kiss on the cheek. In China, the eldest people present should be greeted with a handshake before all others, and in Austria, even children may be greeted with a handshake!
As the world recovers from the coronavirus, it may be that no handshake at all is the preferable greeting. But what will take its place? If you’re preparing to stop shaking hands, we’ve got 20 handshake alternatives that might suit your fancy:
Just say hello
Perhaps the most common alternative: Simply say hello! Most American professionals will accept a “Hi,” “How are you?”, “Nice to meet you” or “Good to see you again” as a greeting without a second thought. Relying on verbal cues also eliminates the need to educate your coworkers or contacts on your preferred way to avoid shaking hands: You had them at hello!
A wave is another natural way to avoid shaking hands, and is appropriate in many personal and professional situations. Waving to someone from afar shows enthusiasm, while a simple hand-raise in closer quarters shows your desire to greet them personally without breaking the boundaries of social distancing.
All Good Head Nod (Affirming downward nod)
“Mad Men” leading gent Don Draper was the king of the All Good Head Nod. Take a page out of his book with this minimalist greeting. A brief nod of the head is ideal in more formal professional situations, or when being introduced to many people in sequence. It indicates your affability without being goofy or confusing—most everyone inherently recognizes the “all good” intent of this gesture.
East Coast Wave (Raise eyebrows with an upward head tilt)
For this handshake alternative, make like Matthew McConaughey: Everything’s alright, alright, alright. Also known as the “bro nod,” an East Coast Wave doesn’t actually require the raising of a hand, though you can certainly freestyle this gesture as you see fit. Raising your eyebrows in acknowledgement and tilting your head upward briefly indicates to new business contacts that you’re friendly, easy-going, and pleased to see them.
Tip your hat
Of course, tipping your hat only works if you happen to be wearing a hat, but if you are, you’re in luck! This is one of the classiest alternative ways to say hello, hearkening back to the old school charm of Golden Era Hollywood. While you’ll likely only use this gesture in more formal scenarios, it’s a good option to have in your arsenal nonetheless.
A classic gesture displaying charm, wit and familiarity, the wink is a helpful handshake alternative, but only in certain circumstances. The wink should almost certainly not be used in a business or professional context, as it can easily be misconstrued. But among known friends, family, and even children, a wink can be appropriate. Just remember to only briefly close one eye—or else you may be teased for being an inept winker!
When it comes to how not to shake hands, the foot tap is a relatively new contender on the scene. There are several variations on this gesture, but in essence, two individuals greeting one another simply tap their feet together while standing apart. As NPR noted during the 2009 swine flu outbreak, there has never been a documented case of flu transmission via foot tap, so we can safely assume that coronavirus is the same.
Much like tapping feet, bumping elbows offers an alternative way to make skin-to-skin contact while avoiding the high-transmission areas of faces and hands. Gently tap your elbow against the elbow of the person you’re greeting, while being sure to angle the rest of your body away to help maintain proper distance.
Jim & Pam Air-five
Perhaps the most common of the high five alternatives, the air-five may not have been invented by the hit TV show “The Office,” but it certainly helped popularize it! While maintaining proper social distancing, simply pretend to high five your acquaintance. This gesture is best used in moments of celebration or victory, like scoring a goal or nailing a presentation.
A gesture dating back to Medieval French knights who raised their visors to show their faces (and their friendly intentions,) salutes are most often used among members of the military. This gesture shows genuine respect among soldiers and servicepeople. A casual two-finger salute from the temples can be used by civilians to acknowledge one another, but is best used among known friends or family members, as it can occasionally be read as sarcastic or apathetic.
Take a bow
Mr. Darcy has nothing on you! Taking a bow may seem old-fashioned, but it may come back en vogue thanks to social distancing. A bow at the waist might be an appropriate greeting in more formal business situations, or when greeting Japanese or Korean natives, as the bow is their preferred greeting.
The more traditionally female-coded partner to the bow, you’ve likely witnessed a modern curtsy if you’ve watched Queen Elizabeth II greet others. A curtsy is an appropriate greeting when meeting individuals of rank, like royals, or when greeting anyone you respect or would like to make a good impression upon. According to the official royal channels of the United Kingdom, a small (that is, non-exaggerated or otherwise dramatic) curtsy, which includes placing the right foot behind the left and bending slightly at the knees, is the traditional best practice.
Peace and love, baby! The peace sign, or V sign, has been used to represent victory and peace since World War II. In this simple hand gesture, the palm face outward with the index and middle fingers open and all others closed. While popularized as a good-faith gesture by the hippies of the 1960’s and disco-lovers of the 1970’s, it is now recognized as both a casual greeting and farewell gesture. While perhaps less appropriate for work or professional environments, in more casual situations, it can work as a handshake alternative.
Finger Guns / Snap & Flick
Another casual greeting or sign of acknowledgement, “finger guns,” or the “snap & flick,” can be a whimsical greeting. “Finger guns” typically refers to the extension of the index finger and thumb, creating a “gun” shape, on one or both hands to greet another party. The “snap & flick” is much the same, but incorporates a snap of the fingers before transitioning to the “finger gun” shape. This is a fun greeting among friends, family and children.
Namaste or yoga bow
Stemming from the rich Hindu culture, the “Namaste” greeting, occasionally referred to as the “yoga bow,” is a respectful greeting and farewell gesture used around the world. In many locales, it has become the preferred alternative to handshaking during the coronavirus pandemic. The Namaste gesture includes a slight bow with the hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest. This is a wonderful gesture for use in both professional and personal settings.
Calling all Trekkies! Created by Leonard Nimoy of the sci-fi titan “Star Trek” in the 1960’s, the Vulcan Salute is an alternative to a handshake, high five or wave. Make like Mr. Spock and raise your hand, palm facing out, with the thumb extended and fingers separated between the middle and ring fingers. This may be used as a more casual, unusual greeting, but if you happen to find yourself among lovers of sci-fi pop culture, salute away!
Shaka sign (Hang loose)
The shaka sign, a.k.a. the “hang loose!” gesture, has Hawaiian cultural roots that have spread to surfer culture and beyond. It consists of extending the thumb and smallest finger while holding the three middle fingers curled, and gesturing in salutation while presenting the front or back of the hand; the hand may be shaken back and forth for emphasis (hence “shaka”.)
In many parts of the world, this is recognized as a casual, upbeat greeting or display of victory or good vibes, but it may not be best in professional environments, as it could easily be confused for the universal “Call me” gesture. Also note that the shaka sign is the same gesture as the letter “Y” in American Sign Language, and therefore might not be the best choice of greeting when conversing with an individual who exclusively communicates using ASL.
A common hand gesture achieved by a closed fist held with the thumb extended upward, the thumbs-up is recognized in America as a sign of approval or appreciation. However, its meaning varies from culture to culture. In Germany, France and Hungary, the gesture can indicate the number one, in certain contexts, while the nations of Iraq and Iran view the gesture as disrespectful and pejorative. The hand shape also has multiple meanings in ASL. As such, the thumbs-up gesture should be largely avoided in interactions with new acquaintances, saved instead for moments of enthusiastic support between friends and family.
Hand on your heart
A lovely, heartfelt gesture, placing your hand over your heart has long been a traditional greeting in several cultures, particularly among Muslims and those wishing to be respectful to their Muslim acquaintances’ beliefs and observances. By placing your right hand over your heart and giving a slight, grateful nod of the head, you can greet virtually anyone inoffensively while maintaining proper social distancing.
Eye contact and a smile
Perhaps the most universal greeting of all: Friendly eye contact and a genuine smile. Whether you opt for this greeting alone or pair it with one of the other options listed above, you can never go wrong with this personable, timeless hello.
Hosting Germ-Free Events at Earle Brown Heritage Center
Earle Brown Heritage Center will continue to enforce the highest standards of safety, cleanliness and health even after cases of COVID-19 begin to decline. As you look toward planning your future events, consider Earle Brown your partner in crafting successful, germ-free meetings, banquets, conventions and other corporate events. Contact us to learn more about our safety precautions, procedures and our ongoing commitment to your health.