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Fist bumps will never replace the handshake - we're just not cool enough

Handshakes are an antidote to the awkwardness and uncertainty of greetings
  • @Jessica_E_Brown

Scientists have tested the healthiness of physical greetings and hailed the fist bump as the most hygienic way to say hello.

The researchers behind the study at Aberystwth University found that a strong handshake transfers up to ten times the number of bacteria as a fist bump. Dr Whitworth, a senior lecturer at Aberystwyth, said if the public were encouraged to fist bump, it could reduce the spread of infectious diseases.

He said, "You can't really imagine a world where people don't greet each other physically. It seems to be a basic human need."

This may be why Whitworth felt compelled to cushion the bad news of the handshake with the suggestion of replacing it with a fist bump. But I want to defend the handshake. I even have a childhood sob story. Well, sort of.

When I was younger, my dad took me into work with him one day. All I can remember is the moment his colleague thought it would be hilarious to treat tiny little me like a grown up and shake my hand. I was terrified.

After that I was scared of handshakes until university dumped me into the real world and I had to get over it. Now, every handshake feels like a mini victory, a middle finger to my irrational childhood fear.

Biases aside, handshakes are the fabric of the adult world. They bind us together in polite niceties and are small gestures that make us feel welcome. They’re the grown up version of sharing your toys.

The best thing about handshakes is that they’re optional. When all you have to go on are first impressions, they provide a good benchmark for human decency. They separate the polite from the lazy – it takes effort to stand up, give a bit of eye contact and wobble your arm up and down.

For anyone with a dash of imposter syndrome, handshakes are a quick way to feel equal to and accepted by scary-looking, suited important people when you feel so inferior you may as well be wearing your pyjamas.

Handshakes are an antidote to the awkwardness of greetings, a standard in a sea of ambiguity and uncertainty. As a northerner living in London I’ve had many what-I-thought-were-going-to-be-hugs-but-the-other-person-goes-in-for-cheek-kisses, ending in someone kissing the side of my head in a one-way hug.

President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump

There is no valid alternative to the handshake. People hold out their fist or hover their hand in the air, expecting you to reciprocate their juvenile greeting. We feel obliged because people can spot a hanging fist bump from miles away, and if you leave one hanging they’ll look at you like you just dropped a baby.

A handshake is discerning and understated – more importantly it’s easy to reverse or style out into a glance at your watch (people who shake hands are the kind who wear watches). If a fist bump goes wrong you could end up winding someone.

Barack Obama, the coolest person since The Fonz, is known for fist-bumping. How are we mortals supposed to live up to that? I can barely pull off trainers.

There is an alternative: scientists say a weak handshake is better than a firm one, and could still lower the spread of infectious diseases. It’s just a shame that limp handshakes are worse than a bad kiss.

I don’t want to lose the handshake, even if it means wearing plastic gloves or lubricating ourselves up with enough antibacterial hand gel to perform an ultrasound. Please, anything – just don’t make me fist bump.