If you are like me and been quarantined or self-isolating at home and you live alone you will not have felt human touch for over four months! Who would have thought that even possible unless they were marooned on a desert island! And like me you are probably horrified when venturing out to see people shaking hands in the street. This shaking of hands, being a formal gesture, indicates these people are not living in the same household. So why are you touching each other unnecessarily?
Shaking hands has become widespread throughout the world as a sign of greeting and of sealing a deal. But where did it originate? Some scholars put the origin back in the fifth century BC, apparently to show neither person was holding any weapons with the intention of attacking the other. A sign of goodwill and peace.
There are some countries that uphold other methods of greetings. Thailand, Japan, India and Nepal still often opt for the more traditional greeting of placing two hands together with a slight bow. A deeper bow for senior and/or respected persons. Yes, all over the world correct etiquette can be confusing. Should you start with the oldest person in the room? Probably yes, to be on the safe side. Should a man shake a woman’s hand? In some countries only if she offers hers first, so hold back guys! Should I give a firm grip or a weak one? In some countries a firm grip is considered rude yet in others a limp handshake is considered as a sign of being ‘weak’ and offering a half-hearted greeting. Is very confusing. There are even classes for business people entering different cultures on how they should act.
But, overall, the handshake has taken the world by storm. Here in Nepal you rarely saw handshakes in the past. The Namaskar gesture was traditional, simple and need I say, hygienic. But somewhere over the past few decades the handshake has become the modus operandi of doing business in Nepal too. Not just business, it has crept into daily greetings between friends also. The hug and kiss on the cheek has also made its way into Nepali society, particularly in the younger generations.
Growing up in Scotland we did not hug and kiss friends when we met. Today still I don’t hug or kiss British friends unless for a celebration or a long separation. It’s just not British! Well at least not among my and my parents’ generation. I do confess to (pre-2020) kissing the cheek of European friends. When in Rome and all that.
In these days of Covid-19 the world has switched to a ‘Namaskar’ or ‘Wai’ greeting. For obvious reasons. So why then am I seeing people, mostly men, still shaking hands in the streets of Kathmandu? In the first week of lockdown I saw two elderly friends meet and give each other fist bumps. Both laughed raucously, no doubt thinking they were being young and ‘trendy’. Yesterday again, I was very happy to see other men doing the same thing. The laughter was still there though. Seems the fist bump has not quite reached the status of being standard procedure. But those people I feel are the few exceptions.
With social distancing pretty much forgotten and pictures of young people carousing in bars, the handshake is, I’m sure, making its come back. Along with the hugging and kissing. Need I say what it is also probably bringing with it? I shudder.
How about we retain the Namaskar greeting? Grandparents will be very happy, and you won’t offend anyone, quite the opposite actually. What’s more, you will be doing your bit to slow down the possible community spread of Covid-19.