The best handshake alternatives for these troubling times

From the much-maligned elbow bump to the stiff-upper-lipped salute, we break down the safest, most sensible handshake alternatives out there

It’s not often we see such a shift in etiquette, is it? We are gentlemen, after all. The world could be reduced to a nuclear wasteland and we’d still probably give a chilly girl our irradiated jacket, or let her through the bunker door ahead of us. But, over the past few weeks, we’ve seen social norms and conventions break down under the weight of this pernicious pandemic. And the first to go? Everyone’s favourite age-old greeting; the humble handshake.

But, while COVID-19 can take our unblocked noses, our lung capacity and our freedom to mosey on down to the pub, it will never take our good manners! And so, in the wake of a ban on physical contact, we Brits have put our heads together (not literally, of course, that would be deadly) and devised some of the most sensible, safe — but also strange and awkward — alternatives to shaking hands.

No. 1: The 'To Hell With It' Handshake

Okay, not so much an alternative to the handshake as a flagrant flouting of national health advice. But, amazingly, there are still some people out there in Coronaland shaking hands with each other. Presumably these are the sort of people who take prescription medication before getting behind the wheel of a forklift, or enjoy going for a swim in the sea 15 minutes after polishing off a banana split.

We have a message for these morons people. Nobody thinks you’re more of a man for sticking to your germy, grubby guns. Nobody’s swooning at your single-handed attempt to stick it to a bunch of pathogens. You’re not being big. You’re not being clever. And you’re certainly not being hygienic. So cut it out.

No.2: The Much-Maligned Elbow Bump

Christ, when did this start? Sadly, in the inevitable race to replace the handshake, this ergonomic nightmare seems to have pulled into the lead. But it’s also leading in the ludicrous stakes. The elbow bump may be a reasonable idea — taking the part of your body closest to the hand and ‘shaking’ that instead — but at what cost to both civility and civilisation?

I mean, have you actually tried it? Scratch that — have you seen anybody else trying it? It looks like that part in every 60s spy caper where the protagonist is tied up back-to-back with a beautiful woman and they’re trying to jointly manoeuvre their way to the handcuff key. Graceful, it is not. Also, on a quick side note, didn’t the health service just tell us to start sneezing into our elbows rather than our hands?

No.3: The 'Foolproof' Foot-Tap

Should have been easy, shouldn’t it? A simple foot tap — almost sounds like something you’d do before a kick-around. But we’ve identified a problem. Although this sounds like the least offensive of all the options — presuming you’ve not got either the kicking power of an international fly-half or a penchant for steel-toed boots — it doesn’t lend itself to self-isolation. At all.

Allow us to explain. Up until a week ago, everyone was still free to wander around outside, pop into the office and schedule in meetings. We were toe-tapping all over town. It was like Strictly. But now, we’re stuck inside with housemates we don’t necessarily know all too well. And there is nothing, nothing worse than a shoeless, slipperless, sockless foot-tap. It’s possibly worse than just catching the virus. No-one wants skin-on-skin foot action. And, if you do, there’s probably websites for that.

No.4: The Respectful Prayer Hands

If you’re feeling a little anxious about the outbreak, there’s something oddly meditative about this alternative. There’s no physical contact at all; instead it’s more like the traditional Indian greeting, Añjali Mudrā. But try it at your own risk. Despite the world crumbling around us, there’ll always be some lone, woke warrior poised to call you out for ‘cultural appropriation’. But that hasn’t stopped you before, has it? Remember the summer of ’17, when you grew out your white person dreadlocks? Or last month, when you used a fork in Itsu?

As long as you don’t pair your prayer with a bow, or throw out a cheeky ‘Namaste’, we think this is an excellent option. And, as a bonus, you can invoke help from any number of gods every time you meet and greet — from the Hindu god of health and medicine, Dhanvantari (that’s actually a real one) to the ancient Greek deity of disinfectants, Dettolus (that is not).

No.5: The Stiff-Upper-Lipped Salute

Of course, if you listen to Churchill-reincarnate Boris Johnson or Second World War sweetheart Vera Lynn (who turns 103 today, so she’s clearly doing something right), you’ll tap into your wartime spirit and start saluting. Not only is this a safer, more sanitary alternative to the handshake, but it’ll also bring a Spitfire-flying, finest-houring, White-Cliffs-of-Dovering tear to your eye every time you say a patriotic hello.

Seriously, why didn’t the salute ever make it into everyday life? We’re all for it. As long as you stay on the Churchillian side of things, there’s nothing wrong with a good salute. Of course, there’s somebody else who had a famous salute, and you should avoid his take on the greeting at all costs. You know who we’re talking about, don’t you? Small chap. Funny uniform. Odd haircut. That’s right, it’s Mr. Spock.

No.6: The Oh-So Cool Fist Bump

Actually, forget Churchill, it’s Obama we all secretly want to be, isn’t it? The first POTUS to pull off a fist bump, Big Barack’s greeting of choice was as effortlessly cool as the man himself. God knows the western world could do with a good strong dose of Barry at the moment to help cure us of COVID-19. But, in the absence of Obama, the least we can do is make use of his take on the handshake.

True, it is still touching hands, but unless you’ve somehow been managing to touch your tissues and stifle your sneezes with your knuckles, then you should be safe. Just make it brief, make it gentle and maybe we’ll all come out of this that little bit cooler.

No.7: The Chest Bump

Actually, scratch this last one. What were we thinking? The chest bump isn’t even a good greeting when you’re not infected with a globally recognised virus. They’re far too easy to misjudge, much too difficult to get right and don’t really even look that impressive when you do execute them perfectly. This isn’t Top Gun. We’re not basketball players. Even Obama might struggle making one look cool…

Also, isn’t the chest where COVID-19 lives? We’re not doctors, but this one sounds like possibly the worst option; crashing your chests together into a coughy, lung-collapsy mess of a greeting. If someone comes at you with this in mind, stick out your hand — because even the classic shake is a better option than this.

Still worried? We’ve debunked some of the most viral myths about the virus here…

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