The Fist Bump Versus the Handshake

Even though the fist bump is a healthier greeting than the handshake, could it ever really become the new norm?

Richie Frieman,
July 30, 2014

The Washington Post recently published an article called “Want A Healthier Life? Stop Shaking Hands And Start Fist-Bumping.” They discuss a study from The American Journal of Infection Control, which states the safety benefits of fist bumping over shaking hands.

For those of you who never noticed athletes greeting one another on the field -- or missed when the Obamas inaugurated the gesture at the presidential primary rally in 2008 -- the fist bump is becoming a go-to way of saying hello, while the handshake is getting the heave-ho.  As a kinda-sorta-germophobe, I like the swap … but as an etiquette expert, I wonder if fist-bumping can actually replace the handshake as king of the formal greeting.

See also: The Art Of the Handshake.

When it comes to greetings, the standard handshake has reigned for centuries. If you don’t shake someone’s hand upon meeting them, they might take it a sign of disrespect. Don’t believe me? Try going into a meeting with someone, and when they stick out their hand, don’t extend yours. Let me know how that goes. Here’s a hint -- not well.

We’re all used to handshaking, and it’s seen around the world as the norm. That said, some cultures have other ways of greeting, and it’s proper to adhere to the greetings of whatever culture you visit. For example, the article also states, “[T]he traditional hongi greeting of the New Zealand Maori involves pressing noses and foreheads together.”

I doubt that tradition will ever make its way into U.S. culture, but it sure makes the fist bump seem much more formal. To the Maori, it would seem rude to pull your head back in disgust as someone tries to rub your nose with theirs. In the same way, in the U.S., it makes for an uncomfortable interaction not to extend a hand for a greeting. With that, I’d argue that offering only a fist bump – to someone other than a buddy at a sporting event – may also seem like a snub.

Case in point: after reading this article, I had dinner plans with my wife and three other couples we go out with regularly. Usually, I’d shake each of the guys' hands, but this time I offered the fist bump. Each of them laughed and gave me a look like, "Ooo...kay. So, we’re doing this now?” I'd never done that before, and it felt odd, but it proved a point. As much as I love the fist bump, I doubt it will overtake the handshake any time soon. And as much as I’d love to give this health-safe greeting to the King of the Fist Bump, President Obama, I feel like if I ever met him (or any other president), I’d immediately go for the handshake. But maybe I'd get a photo of the fist bump afterwards.

Do you know any odd greetings? Head over to my Facebook, or tweet me @mannersqdt, to share!

Fistbump image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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