A nice, firm handshake was a ‘normal’ and perhaps, the go-to greeting for many of us a couple of years ago. The gesture was so ingrained in our culture that it was almost an automatic reflex to stretch out our arms in all our social encounters.

Then came Covid.

Namaste, fist bumps, elbow bumps, and [insert your fav no-touch greeting here ] quickly took over the social-etiquette scene and people started avoiding handshakes. Awareness by health experts on COVID-19 safety guidelines, may in fact go down in history as the main reason for the decline of this once popular germy greeting.

However, old habits die hard and the ancient greeting was always going to make a comeback, and … it has!

In Kenya “you can now shake hands again” is happening in many social settings even without an official statement from the Ministry of Health. From formal interactions to the recent political rallies, handshakes are being handed out in abandon just like in the good old pre-Covid days.

We can also bet you’ve also had to face a stretched-out arm and make a nerve-wracking decision of whether to shake or not to shake in recent times. 

So the question looms; what do you do when someone offers their hand for a shake? Refuse to shake their germy paws and face a potentially awkward situation? Or just ‘go with the flow’ and ignore everything that has been drilled into our brains these past two years? 

Join us as we navigate the rather awkward social situation of bumping, waving, and shaking in 2022 and beyond.

Some touchy issues the handshake poses…

Handshakes have always played a central role in making our interactions personal. A look at the science behind the gesture, however, shows that the gesture isn’t as pleasant as it may seem. 

For starters, hands contain thousands of bacteria per square inch. On average, Pfizer says our hands carry 3200 different types of germs, some of which can be infectious and cause disease.

Shaking hands passes these germs from one person to another which increases the chances of spreading illnesses such as covid-19 and the latest monkeypox.

Handshakes also transmit germs two times as much as fist-bumps or high fives according to research. This has prompted some medical experts in the past to state that they’d even wish we got rid of them for good.

“I don’t think we should ever shake hands again, to be honest with you,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, a top pandemic advisor, in the US, back in 2020 “Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease, it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country.”

That said, getting rid of the handshake hasn’t been easy. For most of us, the shake holds a deep-seated meaning that it might seem disrespectful or downright hostile to not engage in the gesture, especially with relatives and friends.  So, what should you do if you simply can’t avoid the shake?

Can’t completely shake off the handshake? Here’s what to do

If you can’t get rid of handshakes during social interactions, it is much safer if you keep up with the safety practices of covid-19.

Professor Althoff of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health says, “If you’re going to bring your handshake back, just make sure you’re also bringing your hand sanitiser.” As opposed to handwashing, a sanitiser is convenient and easily accessible, allowing you to use it regularly and while on the go. 

In the workplace, providing access to sanitisers, dispensers, and hands soaps can make help make the shake more sanitary for everyone.

Wave the germy handshake goodbye

Whether you are a bumper, a shaker or a hugger we can all agree greetings will always be our unique way of communicating and introducing ourselves in social settings. As we battle with the pandemic, let’s make this experience more hygienic by avoiding physical contact when we can, and maintaining good hand hygiene when we choose to engage in the shake.