Donald Trump's handshakes with Brigitte Macron decoded by body language experts

'The initial greeting is incredibly uncoordinated and graceless -it appeared neither were sure if it should be a hug or handshake,' Ms Reiman explains to The Independent. 

Beth Timmins
Tuesday 18 July 2017 11:46 BST
Trump handshake with Macron goes on forever

US President Donald Trump has a notoriously curious handshake. The much-maligned technique typically begins with pulling the recipient close, elongating the embrace and displaying dominance by initiating the disengagement.

Defensive or aggressive, President Trump’s handshakes are the subject of much debate but when he greeted French first lady Brigitte Macron on Thursday a new element of eccentricity was exposed.

Public affairs Professor Don Moynihan described the greeting as Trump trying to “rip off the arm of the French first lady,” in a tweet on Thursday.

But it seems even the experts disagree on his rare ability to achieve juxtapositions of dominance and awkwardness in the diametric lingers and jerks of his signature move.

Physiologist Dr Harry Witchel tells The Independent that in the handshake, "Donald has styled his own vulgarian greeting by yanking on the arm of his victim," giving the receiver "no choice but to be close to him."

Body language and communication specialist Tonya Reiman draws attention to his handshakes with women, or lack thereof.

“With women, he tends to be less sure of himself and thus, his handshakes with women make those interactions even more uncomfortable to watch than his 'Trump Pumps' with men,” Ms Reiman explains to The Independent.

“The initial greeting is incredibly uncoordinated and graceless - it appeared neither were sure if it should be a hug or handshake,” says Ms Reiman.

“Their hands briefly touch but it immediately turns into a bizarre upper-only hug as Trump squeezes her shoulders -her hands stay on the front of his chest which is typically a way to keep a barrier between you and the individual you are greeting.”

Ms Reiman explains that on Ms Macron attempting to retreat, Trump instead “squeezes her right hand pinky and ring finger tightly...not allowing the withdrawal.”

However Ms Reiman agrees: “He is much more aggressive and physical when shaking a man’s hand, literally jerking them off their feet to demonstrate his desire to be the alpha dominance. With women, he tends to be less sure of himself.”

By contrast, body language and communication consultant Dr Lillian Glass interprets Friday’s handshake as denoting positivity, albeit awkward.

“Donald’s body movements didn't flow and seemed more rigid so he appeared more awkward like an overgrown puppy lavishing you with affection,” Dr Glass tells The Independent.

Dr Glass sees the greeting as a rare moment of Trump being affectionate and effusive with his emotions when greeting women, unlike his previous body language when appearing to ignore Chancellor Merkel in the Oval Office.

“He seems to be cherishing the moment and wants it to last. As they continue to speak and she finally pulls away, he continues to hold on to her hand for a moment and then breaks away,” Dr Glass adds.

Direct eye contact, “genuine smiles” and bending his head down while greeting President Macron illustrate his “fondness,” according to Dr Glass. This he attempts to replicate in his welcome to Ms Macron by “reaching out his hand first while still holding on to Macron's shoulder which indicates friendship and affection,” Dr Glass explains.

“He grabs both of her shoulders in a signal of affection and kisses her on one cheek, attempts to kiss the other cheek but ends up smack dab in the middle, kissing he lips and then kisses the other cheek, all the while still holding on to her shoulders,” Dr Glass adds.

But the fact that one foot is pointing toward Ms Macron, while the other faces her husband indicates affection for them both, according to Dr Glass.

Body language expert Patti Wood interprets Thursday’s handshake as an “awkward grip of her handshaking hand which jerks bizarrely upward several times, not letting go as if he is reprimanding a small child to obey him."

“I have conducted research on handshakes for many years and have not seen this rough grab and tug upward in an adult to adult greeting,” Ms Wood tells The Independent.

“Even though he is initiating handshakes, his desire to be an alpha in control comes out,” Ms Smith adds.

Ms Reiman corroborates this need-to-assert-control, explaining that while Trump “tells us he is a germophobe, his movements often come across as someone not fearful of germs so much as a man fearful of being rejected or less powerful than those around him.”

It seems President Trump will continue to confuse and divide interpretation when it comes to both his politics and personality, with his handshakes yet another element that recurrently grips international interest.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in