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I’ve not given much thought to handshakes. As a business community member, I didn’t question how people greeted each other. It was understood you offered your hand as you met someone, male or female. The handshake was simply expected. Tradition. A way to express greeting, trust and a willingness to communicate.

But I’ve noticed a change. People are not offering handshakes as much. Fist bumps seem to be the way we greet each other. It may be a sign of the times or the concern for spreading germs. But what can we tell about someone from a fist bump?

Maybe it’s the position of the fist bump. Hold it up about shoulder high? Or maybe drop it down to waist high? Or flick it a bit quicker with just a light touch? Or how about holding the bump for a couple of extra seconds? Somehow that’s just not the same.

Handshakes are thought to go back to the 5th century B.C. in Greece where they were used as a symbol of peace. To show neither person was carrying a weapon the handshake changed over time, with the Romans firmly grabbing each other’s forearms, supposedly checking for hidden knives. Et tu Brute’?

In medieval Europe knights began shaking hands to jiggle loose hidden weapons, though there are other historical explanations that the greeting is a symbol of good faith where an oath or promise is offered and shows that a person’s word or sacred bond is given.

For centuries the handshake has been a traditional social custom signifying mutual respect in business and social settings between both men and women. But do today’s handshakes hold the same value and influence as they might have 10 years ago? Does the fist bump really provide a true enough signal of a person’s sincerity?

The hand shake has always been part of business communication, at least in contemporary American culture. Some European and Asian cultures use different methods of showing respect, but generally anyone who conducts business knows what a handshake means. A firm grasp, a couple of pumps and a timed release sends a message of confidence, reliability and civility.

Even among friends and family a handshake is an acceptable greeting, though hugs, back slaps or pats and bumping elbows might be less formal. But overall, the handshake has always held it’s place as the signal that you mean business, you promise what you say is true and you respect the other person’s presence.

Hand shakes have signified a gateway to success where two people agree to respect each other’s trust and reliability whether it is offered as an introduction or as a final parting gesture. A handshake allows you to tell the world something about you that words many times can’t express. Fist bumps? Not so much.

Jim Volgarino is a Waterloo native, retired business owner and former teacher, and freelance writer.


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