Fighter pilot, Royal Navy 1945, Hydrographer Iraq 1947-52 India 1952-53, Canadian Hydrographic Arctic explorer 1953-1960, Writer-producer Canadian National Film Board 1961-72, Freelance journalist, audio-visual producer 1972-2009, National Press Club of Canada 1961 - 2006

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Attention all Hands

A Needless Profuseness of Entwining Palms

Health authorities rightfully blame our ingrained human physical necessity to constantly use our hands, when going about every aspect of daily life, as a prime route for transmitting disease from person to person.
So they encourage all hands to wash their hands any time they are at a loss for anything else to do.  Also entering health centres now usually means the mandatory squirting of antibacterial cleansing gloop on one’s hands.
So I reckon it’s high time that we should discourage the outmoded habit of people shaking hands all the time for little or no reason.
English-flavoured people, and I think also the Scottish and the Welsh, and maybe the Irish, way back when, (and I mean way back when, like when English people were actually called English), well all these people, I seem to remember, seldom used to shake hands. 
As I remember seven or more decades ago most Brits were quite informal in a civilized sort of way.  Whereas shaking hands was quite formal. 
But other people and many foreigners seemed to spend most of their days shaking each other's hands.  I suspect they still do. 
Shake hands a lot, I mean. 
In fact I know, through much travelling about, that some actually appear to get up at odd intervals during the night just to shake hands with one another. 
In the morning they religiously shake hands with everyone they know or don’t know.  In a group they repeat this performance even if they only leave the group for a few minutes to go to the toilet for a quick visit (where they probably take time to shake hands with all the other guys standing and sitting around in the bog).  Then they rejoin their group and shake hands again with everybody they left just a few minutes ago.   After, of course, one assumes, washing their hands.
A guy who sticks out his mitt directly you’re positioned face-to-face with him always strikes me as a guy who wants to sell you something — either material, ephemeral or morally questionable.
I mean when I meet a valued old shipmate, squadron mate, or actual blood brother, even after years of absence, I might give such a special guy a brief arm hug but seldom shake his hand.  That would be so formal he’d suspect I wanted to con him into something.
For example, I used to drink with Ron Power a couple of times a week for many years in the National Press Club.  He came from Ilford and we had gone to the same school in the 1930s.  Ron had spent a very long, adventurous and active war and we had a lot in common.  But I can never remember shaking his hand.  Same with many others now dead and gone.  Come to think of it, I cannot remember ever shaking hands with my wife.  Is that strange?  Of course I often hold her hands and enjoy other deeper intimacies, which definitely are not strange, but I’ve never shaken hands with her. 
I wonder if my personal quirk in being reticent regarding hand shaking is a social impediment?  In fact when some stranger, acquaintance, neighbour, politician or friend sticks out a hand to me it often takes me a while to fathom out what they’re doing.  Or want.  Then if I do react as others do, and pick it up, I forget how long to keep it grasped and tend to embarrassingly hang on to it for an inordinate length of time for no meaningful reason — all of which just compounds my initial hesitation, unease and surprise.
Though when I meet with lawyers, financial advisors and other approved professionals (but usually not doctors) it seems ok to shake their hands.
I wonder why?

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