Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Handshake

A good college will teach you how to shake hands. This may sound totally stupid, but it's true. The basic extend hand, grasp other hand, let go of said other hand, social exchange does have to be taught. Moreover, it should  be taught.

In American culture, the handshake is a huuuuuuuge  part of meeting people and establishing the basis of your future relationship. Personally, I have a tendency to wait to see if someone's going to offer me their hand before sticking out mine when we're in a social gray area, particularly if the other person has more power in the situation / we're on their home turf -- and I'm always a bit disappointed in those who don't go right for the shake. Always.

In those shake-less situations, I'm left wondering -- in an academic capacity, mind you -- if the lack of offer was because I'm a chick and "women don't shake hands like men" and therefore there's a weird sort of sexual inequality going on in this person's lizard brain, or if the lack of offer was because the other person is a socially inept flake. Neither is a good impression.

I'm always ready to shake hands, and always sad when I don't get the offer.

There are two places where I can rely on to get the offer: job interviews and sorority rush. And here is where the whole college should teach you to shake hands thing comes into play:

Shaking hands is important. It's a physical demonstration of your personality, it's also a respectful means of broaching your personal bubble and establishing personal and communal space. I'm sure ethnographers would suggest it's a means of bringing respected individuals into a physical space of social acceptance while keeping unacceptable members of society outside of the group space.

Ethnographers aside, most people think it demonstrates personality: assertive types verses wimpy types. We've all heard of the clammy, dead fish handshake of doom. While near impossible to control how much you sweat without chemical interference, it is however, very easy to control how much pressure you do or don't apply to the other party's hand. I'm rarely more amused than I am by women who give the handshake equivalent of the golf clap: they sort of gingerly clasp your hand the way they would a raw egg using only first two fingers and thumb, then quickly let go, leaving the metaphorical eggshell still in tact. It's all very HRH. Worse is when you offer the whole palm and finger array and leave it there all limp. Fishy. Blah.

We practiced this in the sorority. Women were coming to our door to rush. Maybe not rush our house, maybe they'd never had contact with a single one of us, maybe they'd make friends and decide to join -- whatever the situation, the at-the-door greeting was the first official moment of contact. In so many ways, my experience of Greek life was absolutely nothing like the movies. What I can tell you about rush is that it was not a snippy, catty series of par-tays; it was instead an alcohol-free, highly choreographed, likely inefficient, social dance that the rushee was never supposed to catch on to. And we practiced all of it. From the handshake, to where we sat the girl, to the conversations we'd have, to how we'd offer her food, to the way we'd walk her out the door and what we said as she left. It took us months to prepare. Not to mention learning all the accompanying songs and chants -- don't ask. Among the prep work: we one by one walked up to a near-stranger adult rush adviser, grabbed her limp hand, shook it, and welcomed her. And if we didn't pass, we did it again.

I think we could all do with more handshakes and more handshake practice in our lives. No matter how silly you feel. Come on. Unless you're one of those types who wrap everyone up in a bear hug, shake my hand and do it like you mean it.

Highly Recommended