To shake or not to shake? Customs, snubs and historic moments in our gripping history of the handshake.
As a doctor advises London 2012 athletes not to shake hands for fear of illness, we look back at the history of the handshake
Let’s shake on it: Whether greeting or sealing a deal, the handshake has a rich history A handshake is a standard part of the pre-event build-up for many sporting encounters.
But the British Olympic Association’s head doctor has advised London 2012 athletes not to shake their rivals’ hands this summer in case they catch a bug .
Chief medical officer Dr Ian McCurdie warned any sickness picked up in the “quite stressful environment” of the Games could affect performance.
While Dr McCurdie’s measures would be met with approval from mysophobics (people with a fear of germs) across the globe, the handshaking ritual is deeply embedded within most cultures.
By not shaking hands, would Team GB be risking grabbing headlines across the world for perceived standoffishness when our athletes would be better off letting their talents take centre stage?
No shake: Wayne Bridge publicly snubs John Terry Getty
A mark of respect and good sportsmanship, the handshake is generally thought to have developed as a gesture to demonstrate neither side is carrying a weapon in their right hand and that each person comes in peace.
Actually shaking hands proves there is no hidden weapon which could be used during a meeting.
Body language is crucial in every aspect of human interaction. And crucially, rather than expressing deference, a handshake between two people expresses a willingness for equality and balance.
Houston, we have a handshake: Alexei Leonov,Soviet commander of the Soyuz, greets Thomas Stafford, American commander of the Apollo, on 17 July 1975 Getty
Historic: Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO’s Yassar Arafat shake on the agreement giving the Palestinans more control over the West Bank Getty
Having become enshrined in etiquette, anxieties relating to protocol arguably become even more pronounced – if obviously less deadly – within societies riddled with hierarchies.
This neurosis is expanded upon brilliantly in the two-part Seinfeld episode ‘The Raincoats’, where stand-up Jerry (who is also a germaphobe) agonises about how we “as human beings… need more training in our basic social skills”.
He explains: “Handshakes are the worst, there’s absolutely no guidelines for handshakes… Too long, too weak, sometimes they give you the three-quarter handshake just the fingers, early release, late release.
“Sometimes people will dispute your release. You let go, they’re hangin’ on. I have actually said to people, ‘Hey the handshake is over!’
“Too many pumps, coming in too high, too sweaty, coming from too far away… Sometimes a guy will give you a strong grip, late release, and pull you in for the too close conversation.
“To him I say: ‘That’s three strikes you’re out.’”
But a handshake − whether it be weak, strong or all fingers and no fist − is better than no handshake at all, especially when the world is watching.
In politics especially, every piece of interaction affects relationships, standing and reputation when all involved are jockeying for position.
Swerve: Sarkozy avoids contact with Cameron AP
Entente uncordiale: Cameron is snubbed at EU summit AFP
Last December, David Cameron was made to look a chump on the European stage − and less of a fundamental player in world politics − when French president Nicolas Sarkozy swerved the PM’s proffered hand.
Taking perception another step further, the result of the 2004 Australian federal election is frequently reckoned to have hinged on a single handshake.
Killer clutch: John Howard, right, gets a shakedown from Mark Latham on the last day of election campaigning Reuters
Expected to lose, incumbent PM John Howard met his opponent Mark Latham in a radio studio a few days before polling.
Latham shook Howard’s hand in a very aggressive manner, pulling him close and staring him down as if he was squaring up.
Footage of the handshake spread like wildfire, leading to a prevailing impression that Latham a bully. He lost the election in a landslide, with opinion polls suggesting it was that handshake which cost him the election.
Just right: JFK presses the flesh with Richard Nixon in 1960 CBS via Getty
Although he certainly didn’t come up with the concept of politicians ingratiating themselves with voters by pressing the flesh and kissing babies, former US president John F Kennedy was savvy enough to recognise the importance of image.
It is thought he went as far to commission an entire survey on handshaking to ensure that he got it just right – firm, but not aggressive, friendly but not weak – when greeting other world leaders.
Conversely, one of his predecessors in office George Washington apparently decided that shaking hands was for the common people, meaning he bowed when greeting people in public.
Wary of infections: This grip between Trump and Mitt Romney is probably as much fun for Don as it is for everyone watching Getty
Frothy-haired tycoon Donald Trump is one prominent opponent of greeting people hand-to-hand, regarding the process as “barbaric”.
Having once distributed bottles of hand sanitizer to reporters in order to minimize the transmission of germs, he has described hand-shaking as “one of the curses of American society” that could lead to catching infections.
Larger than life and not exactly one of the world’s most natural diplomats anyway, Trump has conceded that he would have had to shake hands if he had decided to run in the presidential elections.
But Trump did not specify whether that would include teachers who he has vowed never touch “because they have 17,000 germs per square inch on their desks”.
West meets East: President George W. Bush breaks bread with Vladimir Putin at a G8 summit AFP
“Nice to see you”: When handshakes go wrong – Jack Straw gaffes as he greets Mugabe in 2004. Prince Charles also shook with the Zimbabwe tyrant at the Pope’s funeral the following year BBC
Barack Obama’s handshaking approach provides key insight into his personal image on a wider level.
While critics may claim his relaxed approach is carefully cultivated to amplify his unflappability, his greeting style emphasises respect rather than formality and a wish to connect.
During his campaign trail toward the White House, many right-wing American observers reacted with a mix of confusion and horror to seeing Obama bumps knuckles with wife Michelle at an election rally. One media critic even described the gesture as a “terrorist fist jab”.
Touching knuckles: Then-Senator Obama brushes fists with Michelle
Glad handing: President reaches out to PC Michael Zamora in Downing Street PA
But when Obama shook hands with a policeman outside 10 Downing Street during a 2009 visit, he really exported some of the finest qualities of American equality for an international audience to witness.
Football handshakes have become a diplomatic minefield over the last year, with Wayne Bridge’s public humiliation of John Terry, the cancellation of the traditional pre-match line up between QPR and Chelsea in the wake of the Anton Ferdinand-Terry race row and Luis Suarez’s disastrous snub of Patice Evra after the Liverpool striker had served an eight-match ban for abusing the Manchester United star.
In 2010 scientists at the University of Manchester developed a mathematical formula for the perfect handshake.
Professor Geoffrey Beattie took into account 12 variables, including eye contact, spoken greeting, hand temperature and dryness.
But Team GB’s medic Dr McCurdie would probably not approve: there is no mention of hand hygiene.
Traditional handshake customs from across the world
In Switzerland, it is expected to shake women’s hands in company first
Austrians will offer handshakes as equally to children as adults when meeting
Where physical contact between members of opposite sexes is prohibited in some religions, shaking hands is frowned upon. A short nod or bow is often preferred
Moroccans give one kiss on each cheek (to those of the same gender) together with a handshake.
Islamic custom has it that shaking hands is the practice of the Prophet Mohammed as well as a sign of welcome
In Sudan, people who know each other give a good pat on the shoulder of the other before shaking hands
In China, where a weak handshake is preferred, people shaking hands will often hold on to each other’s hands for an extended period after the initial handshake
It is expected that the ‘senior’ person will initiate a handshake in South Korea, where it is also preferred to be weak. It is a sign of respect to grasp the right arm with the left hand when shaking hands.
Finaly the best handshake in the world !