Handshakes: A critical ritual

Published 10:17 am Wednesday, May 24, 2023

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Back in prehistoric times a villager would leave home to hunt for new food, new crops, or a prom date. If he saw somebody he didn’t know – quite likely since most settlements contained 13 people and a goat – he might assume a fighting stance.

The other person would do the same, and they’d start yelling insults like, “Your hair is poorly cut,” or “You smell like a diseased jackal.” (Note: Both these statements were true.)

After a few minutes trading insults and threats, they’d extend their weapon hands. After shaking, they might share a meal, tell crude Neanderthal jokes, and exchange business cards.

Today we know that the handshake is a critical ritual, ranking even higher than speed dating. Here are a few tips for better grips:

Extend your hand while smiling. When the other person extends his, do not pull yours away quickly and laugh.

Grip the person’s hand moderately. Do not squeeze it hard, because (a) it might break, (b) the person could perceive you as aggressive, or (c) the person might be much stronger than you, and grind your fingers into bone fragments.

Conversely, a very weak handshake might be perceived as insincere. This shake is called a “dead fish,” and is inappropriate unless somebody actually requests a fish.

Don’t pump the person’s hand more than twice.  Pumping a person’s hand more than five times is called “running for Congress.”