Before COVID-19, shaking hands was a common way to greet people. Usually, we didn't even think about it.
Shaking hands is engrained deep into our culture. It's been around for thousands of years, stemming back to the days of the ancient Hebrews. Later, the ancient Romans and ancient Greeks shook hands to sign on official deals.
The extension of the hand was seen as extension of an olive branch.
“Some people believe the actual grasping of the hands and the up and down motion of the handshake was that, if there was a weapon in someone’s sleeves, it would be lodged out or you would hear it clank,” said Maralee McKee, an etiquette expert and founder of the The Etiquette School of America.
Fast forward to today, it might feel a little jarring if someone tries to extend their hand to us.
McKee expects most people to be okay with shaking hands when it’s safe to do so, but we should expect some people to be hesitant.
A recent Harris poll for Fast Company found 54% of people would be happy to never shake someone's hand again. In those instances, it is up to the person who does not want to shake hands to let it be known.
“Actually, put your hands behind your back, something that would usually be very rude, but go ahead and put your hands behind your back. In other words, ‘I’m not going to be extending it.’ But let your kindness come through via a smile on your face, making eye contact. A nod of the head is always a polite thing to do.”
Another option is to simply let people know you won't be shaking hands. There are also alternative greetings we can use now and in the future.
“Take your hand and put it here over your shoulder. And just do a slight bow of the head. That way it gives you and the other person something to do with your hands,” said McKee.
At the end of the day, we should always remember that everyone has different levels of comfort. Both comfort and etiquette are likely to change as the pandemic situation changes.