It may seem harmless, but are you actually jeopardizing your health when you shake hands with people?

by Christopher Bachler 

Ask people why something is customary, and they’ll shrug.  Such are the slaves of custom.

Consider the custom of handshaking, for example.  As a child, I read that handshaking was an ancient Bedouin custom used to determine whether or not a stranger might be carrying a knife.

One can never be too careful in a desert where lizards and scorpions alone witness men’s foulest deeds, and where the shifting sands cover more corpses than the imagination could count.

How effective this method was remains in doubt since a Bedouin who plans to cut your throat might be concealing a whole arsenal beneath so many robes and would be unlikely to present his knife until it’s too late for you to object.

But do we really need to know such things today? If you suspect that someone’s carrying a knife, you should avoid him altogether. Or you might carry a gun and tell the individual to keep his distance. Certainly metal detectors would be more effective ways to screen out armed hostiles. And if not, then why don’t security teams settle for handshakes at inner city schools and airports?

But of what use is handshaking today?  Why must be grasp hands just to greet people?  Wouldn’t a simple smile or a nod, or even a salute do?

Some value the handshake as a way to size up a man.  It’s widely believed that a weak and slithery handshake betrays a weak and slithery man, while a firm hand reveals a man of solid character. More likely, though, that firm grip unmasks an insecure man with a lot to prove, while that hesitating grip might indicate a man’s distaste for holding another man’s hand.

Then there are germs to consider. Reports from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that serious infections are commonly transmitted by handshakes.  Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA infections), once limited largely to healthcare environments, are now everywhere and are 10 times more common than they once were.

Common colds and flu can also be spread in this way.  Remember the swine flu scare and those official admonitions to limit handshaking? If it was unwise then, why is it any wiser now? Have germs all disappeared?

Even if you’re undaunted by germs, consider the gross factor. Think about what people do with their hands when others aren’t looking. Can you imagine what orifices those 10 little digits crawl into? And do you really think that people all wash their hands after every excavation into one bodily orifice or another?

Keep dreaming! A recent Michigan State University study determined that only five percent of the population properly washes their hands after using the john. And many do not wash their hands at all!

Beyond even this is the ultimate turnoff, at least for me, of touching another man’s hand.

I’m also suspicious of guys who seem a little too eager to shake my hand. Are those salesmen who approach you with big grins and outstretched hands really just eager to hold your hand? Or do they think you will warm to them for holding yours? This is definitely no way to sell me anything!

Years ago, it became customary to shake hands in church. The priest urges his flock to “offer each other some sign of peace,” and a multitude of hands are thrust in all directions. I suspect the faithful are less interested in touching other people’s dirty hands than in making points with the Almighty.

I cannot say whether or not God is pleased by people’s digital embraces, or whether or not He keeps track of how often we press the flesh. Though I may risk Divine censure, I’ve made a point of leaving Mass before the handshaking begins. May God help them, one and all!

Here are some ways to avoid handshakes:

• Avoid social situations.  The best way to avoid handshaking is to avoid people.

• Be mean. People won’t shake your hand if they don’t like you, although they might punch you!

• Cough or sneeze into your hands.

• Wear casts on both hands.

• Stick your thumbs in your belt and pretend they’re stuck.  People might think you’re an idiot, but hey, that’s still better than shaking their hands!

• Pretend to be homosexual. If the other person is homosexual, then pretend to be straight.

• Petition Congress to abolish handshaking.  If they can legislate a cure for the healthcare system, then they can do anything!

Christopher Bachler is a Delaware County freelance writer who probably would have become a hugely successful corporate executive or even U.S. Senator if he had only been willing to shake hands.