Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Britons letting go of the handshake

IT's long been a somewhat touchy area, but the handshake appears in danger of dying out altogether in socially reserved Britain.

Survey findings released this week found 74 per cent of British adults admit they no longer reach out to shake hands with friends and colleagues.

And there seems little hope of the younger generation resurrecting the tradition, with only 45 per cent of respondents aged under 25 saying they use handshakes compared with 69 per cent of those aged 26 and over.

Manchester Metropolitan University senior psychologist Dr David Holmes, who analysed the survey, said a powerful legacy was under threat.

"Handshakes are dying out with the young, they don't do it and in general, even among people who were brought up with them, they are being used less and less," Dr Holmes said.

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"The handshake symbolises trust between individuals, countries, business and sportsmen as well.

"It is a tradition that we don't want to see die out."

Commissioned by a hand wash manufacturer, the survey of 1,000 people found 67 per cent said health fears made them reluctant to shake hands.

Dr Holmes said apart from germ phobias, people were more comfortable these days with the controlled social contact of a phone call or text message than face-to-face interaction which requires immediate and direct responses.

And while younger people sometimes used greetings like touching clenched fists, "high-fives" or air kisses, they were not being taught the art of the handshake by their parents and were therefore awkward about how to respond.

So, the solution to saving the handshake? Dr Holmes believes practice makes perfect, and may also mean preservation.

"For every person that shakes hands, then another person will start to think it's not such a bad thing," he said.

In her book, Watching the English, anthropologist Kate Fox writes: "Note, though, that the English handshake is always somewhat awkward, very brief, performed 'at arm's length', and without any of the spare-hand involvement - clasping, forearm patting, etc. - found in less inhibited cultures."

With the growing popularity of kissing (almost always the "air" variety) as a form of greeting, you have an etiquette minefield in a society distinctly ill at ease with physical contact.

The key problem with kissing someone hello is the question of how many - one quick peck in the cheek vicinity or the more elaborate two favoured in continental Europe.

If you go for the double barrell but your recipient is of the single school, you're left puckering into thin air while they've moved on to greet the next person.

Any sign of indecision from either party and a comical dance ensues while each tries to anticipate the other's next move, or lack thereof.

One solution is to plant one kiss and then pull the recipient in for a hug, thereby cutting off any access to a second smacker.

But then you're left to perform a rather uncomfortable dis-embrace before sloping off in embarrassment.

An English friend of mine has developed a strategy of kissing one cheek and then the other with such fluidity, grace and purpose that the kissee is in no doubt there will be two and it's over before they can even think about it.

It's the best solution I've seen, allowing a return to the stiff-upper-lip pretense that it never happened.


Baynes, Valkerie. 2010. "Britons letting go of the handshake". . Posted: January 31, 2010. Available online:http://www.heraldsun.com.au/lifestyle/the-other-side/britons-letting-go-of-the-handshake/story-e6frfhk6-1225825143509

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