How To Avoid The Hug and Handshake Greeting Post Covid

Tricia Chadwick

Covid is the perfect excuse to retire these socially awkward greetings forever.

Photo by United Nations

Humans need affection. This is well documented in scientific research. 

The controversial monkey experiments begun in the 1950s gave us our first insights into just how important affection is to our development. 

Harry Harlow's experiments isolating baby monkeys and depriving them of their mothers proved this basic and fundamental need. The baby monkeys displayed disturbing behavior from the isolation. They self-mutilated, crying out, displaying severe emotional distress, even after being reintroduced to the group. 

This study resonates, especially now, as we are just beginning to deal with the effects of covid isolation.

 Isolation and loneliness are serious health hazards that we need to be aware of and ready to combat with affection. 

This article is not about the affection you get from close family members and friends. 

Of course, that is necessary, important, and health improving. 

This article is about the sort of forced affection that comes from social norms. For example, the hugs that have become a social norm. 

Not the "you're upset hug" or "you're grieving hug." 

The "hello" hug. 

I'm talking about the hugs you get from your 'out and about' friends, acquaintances, clients. People that you generally and genuinely like, but not necessarily enough for physical contact. 

When did that become the norm? When did I start to feel guilty for not hugging my hairdresser when I see her at a street fair? 

I say let's make 2021 the year of no guilt. I'm taking back the hug, and you should too. 

Don't get the wrong idea. I am Pro-hugging. I love to hug. 

Very much so. I can't get enough of it-- when I'm hugging the people closest to me, of course. 

But hasn't hugging gotten a bit out of control? I can't be the only one seeing this? 

Avoiding the Adult Hug

I don't know about you, but I don't remember adults constantly hugging each other when I was a kid. My mom had friends. They'd meet up for walks and a pottery class. I do not remember hello hugs. 

Pre-covid, this had become the norm. 

Meet up with a friend for a coffee, hug upon arrival. 

Finished your coffee? Hug before exiting the coffeeshop and probably again at your car. 

See an acquaintance from high school in the grocery store? Hug it out in the cereal aisle. 

Again, maybe not always necessary, but what are the rules? 

Since they are unwritten, I have spent many a conversation attempting to judge if I am required to hug or can I get away with a wave? 

Is a wave weird? 

Oh my god, I think they are wrapping it up. 

Are they off balance or leaning in? Oh geez, it feels like a lean. 

I'm going in for the hug. Nope. 

They were just going to scratch their leg. Now I'm awkwardly hugging a bent over random acquaintance in the cereal aisle. And my mom wonders why I don't want to attend my high school reunions. 

Covid can be that excuse we've needed to stop the unnecessary hugs.

Giving Kids Permission To Forgo The Hug

While we are at it, let's stop making our kids hug everyone hello and goodbye. 

Kids are germy. They don't always use a tissue, and they don't always remember to wash their hands. 

I now have the visual of a family party-- a child going from one family member to the next, hugging everyone goodbye. 

Major germ spread, yuck. 

Besides being germ spreaders, kids are uncomfortable with the hugging practice. For years I forced my kids to hug family members and friends that we didn't see often, and it's just weird. 

Kids shouldn't be forced to hug or kiss anyone they don't want. It goes against following their instincts, something that we want them to do.

Wave Goodbye to Shaking Hands

As an awkward individual, shaking hands has always been a sweat-inducing moment for me. 

Do I release, hold on a little longer, tighter, firmer, too limp? 

The anxiety of not knowing if someone is going in for a handshake or a fist bump can be torture. 

And handshakes at church, no, thank you. I watched you blow your nose and pick your ear for the first half of mass, and I am going to offer you the true sign of peace, hippy-style, two fingers forming a V.

For many years, I worked in group homes for the developmentally disabled. Someone, a nurse, I'm sure, hung a sign in the bathroom with the bacteria count found on unwashed hands. Although the exact number escapes me, that sign really made an impact on me. For the next 20 years, I honestly thought of that sign every time I washed my hands. According to Davidson Washroom, 1,500 bacteria are living on each square centimeter of skin on our hands. Now it's in your head. 

You're welcome. 

It's even worse when you take into consideration that the CDC estimates that 1 out of 4  people do not wash their hands: 

  • after using the bathroom
  • before preparing food
  • after coughing, sneezing, or blowing the nose
  • before and after touching eyes, nose, and mouth
  • after going to a public place
  • before and after touching their mask 

Men and white non-Hispanic adults are also less likely to remember to wash their hands.

Looking at these statistics, I think you will agree that shaking hands is about as tempting as scratching each other's bottoms. Let's just not do it. Let's keep our hands to ourselves.

Alternative Greetings

We have all been looking forward to an end to all of this isolation. We are ready to get out, travel, and eat dinner with friends in a restaurant. 

How then, can we greet each other safely? 

Many greetings from different cultures around the world are completely pandemic approved.  

National Geographic traveled the world to find examples of 6 cultures that use alternative greetings that could be adopted worldwide in place of hugging and shaking hands.

1.Namaste from India to Nepal- although this greeting has become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon, the greeting is traditionally about humility and reverence. "By folding your hands together, you keep your energy protected and contained, as opposed to absorbing another person's [energy]," explains Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, a trauma specialist, and Nichiren Buddhist.

2.The wai in Thailand--This greeting involves a bow of the head with hands pressed in front. says Amporn Marddent, a lecturer in the Cultural Studies Program at the Institute of Liberal Arts, Walailak University Nakhon Si Thammarat. "But the history of the wai also comes from the greeting to show that we are very open, we do not carry any kind of weapon, and we come in peace."

3.Bowing in Japan-"The bending of the body and lowering of the head conveys "reverence to others," Kaifu explains. "When you bow, you bow with your head down. You have no intention to assault or attack."

4.Cup and clap in Zambia-"To say a simple hello, cup your hands together and clap a couple of times while saying "mulibwanji" (meaning "hello," used any time of the day) or "mwakabwanji" (good morning)."

5.Lakota avoidance practices-The Lakota Tribe of Standing Rock, South Dakota, uses avoidance practices to show respect. "Jennifer Weston, a member of the Lakota, grew up on the Standing Rock reservation, in South Dakota, and says that while a gentle, fingertip handshake is a common greeting in her culture, she was taught to refrain from physical and eye contact when greeting in-laws or cousins of the opposite gender.

"I always understood the avoidance practices as coming from a place of respect," Weston says, "but also having to do with the large kinship networks that our communities lived in." Kinship is at the heart of Lakota culture. Physical and eye contact avoidance "was a way to maintain appropriate boundaries. And maybe in close living quarters or in families that were multigenerational and may have shared living spaces—through different kinds of conditions in terms of winter seasons, for example—I think it was just part of a social order."

6.The salaam of Islam--"While many "salaams" (greetings) do involve touch—it's common within Muslim communities for members of the same gender or family to greet one another with a handshake, hug, and multiple cheek-side kisses—physical contact isn't a requirement. In fact, there's an awareness of physical touch inherent in Islam that informs the way people in the Muslim community approach greetings."

What We Gained

Covid has taken plenty from us over this past year, lives, weddings, graduations, parties, vacations, holiday celebrations. 

While it can be easy to dwell on the negative, I'm choosing to look at the positives. There are some things that Covid will take that I am happy to see go.

Life without the pressure to hug and shake hands makes life as an awkward person much less stressful!

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Small business owner, teacher, and mom. I write about learning, health, parenting, and animals.

Torrington, CT

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