Opinion

Say goodbye to the handshake

By John Lewis

Is this the end of the handshake?

Three times this week I've gone for the traditional hello and three times I've pulled away.

What used to be a simple blokey gesture is now reduced to an embarrassing nod followed by the jocular elbow touch.

It's even worse when saying goodbye.

There's a gap filled with a silent, but firm nod and a quick turn around so the moment can be filed away as awkward.

The handshake was always a capital letter or a full stop. You kind of knew where things were with a handshake. This was the start, and this the ending.

But now there's nothing. Just a limp acknowledgement followed by a lingering gap. Like a bridge that ends in mid-air. Conversations are left hanging as if there could still be something left to say.

Among blokes, and perhaps some women, the handshake was a sign of character. A bloke's firm handshake was a seal of honesty, committment and decency. A limp handshake was like a dead fish — no life, slightly creepy and defintely not to be trusted. Unless, of course, you were an actor or a member of the royal family.

Straightshooters and no-bulldust characters who call a spade a spade used handshakes as proof of surging, red-blooded testosterone.

Then there's the crushing handshake. Football coaches, publicans, old soldiers, horsemen and other no-nonsense types employed the handshake as a test of a bloke's mettle.

You wouldn't want to be stuck in a trench facing a hundred charging Bosch bayonets with a limp-handshake bloke.

I once interviewed a veteran rodeo rider who reduced my knuckles to powdered potato with a handshake. These hands had gripped a thousand saddle horns to survive a flick and a roll in the dust from a bucking beast, and he was going to tell me all about it.

Who can forget the moment Mark Latham came charging out of a radio studio interview and almost yanked John Howard's arm off with a wrestler's handshake?

That was someone desperately trying to stamp his authority like a bull elephant.

Then there's the refused handshake — akin to a slap in the face. Scomo handled that like a master.

The silent handshake can deliver a potent message.

I remember being gobsmacked at a photo of Elvis shaking the hand of Richard Nixon. You mean the King of Rock and Roll hangs out with gangsters?

Handshakes are tools of the politician's trade. So it makes us wonder — what happens now?

How do we stamp our authority, seal a deal, or say I'm a rodeo rider — without a handshake?

And where do handshakes actually come from? Who started the idea of grabbing hands and shaking them? I can't imagine Jesus or Shakespeare offering firm handshakes to everyone they met in a busy day.

But it appears the handshake is an ancient ritual.

There is a stone relief that shows an Assyrian king shaking hands with his Babylonian counterpart to seal an alliance.

Homer described handshakes in The Odyssey as pledges and displays of trust.

Medieval knights were supposed to have come up with the vigorous up and down movement to shake out any hidden knives of their opponents.

So where to from here in these social distancing times?

Perhaps a simple bow, an air-kiss or the namaste prayer gesture.

All very nice, but I can't see old rodeo riders or gangsters doing any of those.