When we went into lockdown we all stopped doing this – some of us had stopped even before that.

It’s something we have tended to do here in the UK – in business and socially.

Maybe it’s a generational thing (I’m in my 60s) and perhaps it’s also more prevalent amongst men than women – although, in my experience, lots of women (in a work context, at least) used to shake hands, too.

A handshake seems like a small gesture, but maybe it represents quite a lot?

I’ve been used to it as a friendly greeting, a sign of trust, and a way of saying thank you and/or sealing an agreement.

On the downside, perhaps, there has been theory and speculation around the use of handshakes as an expression of power – various pundits have reviewed footage of meetings between political leaders on this basis, for example. And I suspect that many of us have found our opinion of another person impacted by an overly firm, overly long, sweaty or ‘limp’ handshake from someone else…

Now that we’re much more acutely aware of the transmission of germs in general (not just covid-19) especially between strangers, a lot of us are wondering if we will ever go back to shaking hands ever again. Maybe not.

Alternatives have been encouraged/developed this year:

  • Fist bump
  • Elbow bump
  • Toe tap
  • Nod
  • Bow
  • Gassho (image here for anyone unfamiliar with this one)

Personally, I feel sad that I might not shake hands again. I think I will miss the personal contact made in this way, skin to skin, or glove to glove.

I haven’t been in a situation yet where I’ve needed to override my natural instinct/habit to shake hands – a result of restricting my social activity and doing pretty much all of my work online at the moment. But the day will come, I’m sure, in the same way as my still having to keep my distance from friends and not hugging them when we meet.

The whole process of greeting people in person feels a bit awkward to me at the moment, and many other people tell me they feel similarly. I can’t help wondering what the future holds for us in terms of physical contact with people other than our nearest and dearest – and how this might impact on our feelings of connectedness with others in the physical world.

Even if/when we have a vaccine for covid-19 will we be anticipating the next virus – or simply be more cautious re transmitting more ‘everyday’ infections such as colds or flu?

Is how we see other people, especially those that are outside our inner circle, now permanently bound up with seeing them, in part at least, as a potential source of infection?

Germophobes, whose behaviour has been viewed as somewhat extreme (Sheldon from TV’s The Big Bang Theory comes to mind here), have been used to seeing people in this way – and maybe now some of his is being normalised, becoming more mainstream?

I admit that I can see both sides of this – the rational, sensible caution vs the feeling of loss of physical contact.

Will this stop us, or make us hesitate perhaps, in reaching out to other people from now on? Physically, metaphorically or emotionally?

In the longer term, will we continue to greet people differently when we meet in person – using some of the alternatives I’ve mentioned here?

Physical contact has been widely acknowledged as an important part of how we form and maintain our relationships – and also as a basic human need in order to thrive rather than simply survive – so maybe it’s something to ponder.

What do you think?