Sarah Sands: Shake my hand and give yourself away

Share
Related Topics

The factors that decide health and longevity are mostly genetically determined. So the medical research last week that recommended a strong handshake got an enthusiastic airing. But are handshakes an expression of physiology or of character?

A firm handshake might be associated with status, wealth and a more muscular and self-confident view of the world. By contrast, a drippy grip can convey timidity, defeatism and low self-esteem.

I remember reading a medical survey that linked women who had undergone cosmetic surgery to premature or unnatural ends. Did surgery cause death, or was the type of woman who chose surgery more metropolitan, flightier and thus generally higher risk?

The illustrations in Tony Blair's autobiography are quite handshake-based, because the gesture denotes power, purpose and public relationships. His favourite is the strong clasp, with thumbs stretched to the wrist, as practised on his buddy President Clinton. The hands are kept low, almost at groin level. It is quite unlike the swift outstretched handshake that leaders use when they want somebody out of the way.

Blair includes a photograph of himself shaking hands with Bertie Ahern after the Good Friday agreement, and none of him shaking hands with Gerry Adams. He does not show off the clenched fist handshake exchanged with Colonel Gaddafi and he omits whole sequences of jolly handshakes with President Bush.

In his book he also broke protocol by revealing his conversation with the Queen. Their private conversation turns out to be identical to the fictionalised account in Peter Morgan's film The Queen. Unsurprisingly, Tony Blair does not grip the Queen's hand to his groin. He approaches the monarch gingerly, holding her fingers rather than wrist.

This raises the question of what sort of handshake a woman should offer. It is all very well for medical research to recommend the manly Don Draper clutch. What does that mean for women who do not play rugby for England? How can they express authority without rippling strength? The Queen wears dignified white gloves, but these would not work for most of us in the workplace.

Even the magnificently self-confident American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can find her hand vanishing inside a greater male grip. Barack Obama practically squeezed her to death during a pre-election television performance.

On the Continent, there is a further threat to women that their outstretched hand will be kissed. Women need to be firm and above all quick. We have no training in male tricks such as slapping one's spare hand over the handshake like an oyster shell, or gripping the wrist of the hand that we shake.

It is more complicated for teenagers, whose handshakes demand intricate choreography. Handshakes are also slaps and fist bumps and high fives. YouTube offers several guides to cool handshakes. They are as tribal as the freemasons'.

Maybe it is not muscular ability that guarantees longevity, but something else. Competitive instinct and will. The firm handshake contains a Darwinian element. Who grips strongest, wins. It was Tony Blair's need to dominate that took him into politics. And now the world stage offers him 1,000 handshakes. No wonder he is looking so youthful.



Sarah Sands is deputy editor of the London Evening Standard

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The reign of the cupcake may be at an end  

Gluten-free diets reveal more about Western anxieties than they do about the protein

Memphis Barker
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: The spurious Tory endorsement that misfired

Oliver Wright
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence