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Handshake Etiquette

A Hand Extended As A Friendly Greeting


Two businesspeople in office shaking hands
Chris Ryan/OJO Images/Getty Images

Have you ever wondered about the origin of handshakes? You might be interested to know that the very nature of the handshake was originally intended to show oneself friendly.

During the medieval times, when many of the men were covered in armor, the handshake was a manner of greeting used to show friendship. If one male extended an open hand to another this was understood to mean an extension of friendship and the gesture would be returned. Ofcourse the alternative would be a hand extended with an accompanying dagger or sword. Suffice it to say the handshake was a way to determine whether one was friend or foe.

Handshake Basics

The basic American handshake is very simple and most often used as a greeting between friends or new acquaintances. Here's how it is done:

  1. The right hand is extended, thumb up and palm flat.
  2. Grasp the other person's hand using a firm grip, palm on palm.
  3. Hands are pumped two or three time in a vertical motion.
  4. The grip is released.
You can definitely practice extending great handshakes with your friends and family members so that you can determine what is comfortable for you and others. Trying it out on a friend is much easier than starting out with strangers.

Handshake Types

  • The Hand Hug: The "handhug" is a popular type of handshake often used by politicians. This shake which involves the covering of the clenched hand shake with the left hand, communicates warmth, friendship, trust and honesty.
  • The Crusher: This painful handshake is a favorite shake of aggressive people. This shake is said to display confidence and power. Considered the favorite of those who are overly
  • The Queen's Fingertips: This handshake greeting is most commonly observed in male-female encounters. Usually the female presents her outstretched hand and the recipient grasps only a few digits of the right hand.
  • The Please Keep Back: This handshake is usually extended when one of the parties is not too excited about the greeting. He or she may feel intruded upon or inconvenienced and the handshake will communicate the discomfort.

Handshakes in Culture

There are many alternatives to the everyday basic handshake. Many cultures have personalized the handshake for use within their community. Here are a few.

  • The "jiveshake" or "black man's shake," is associated with African-American culture. This handshake is performed by each person clutching the base of the other person's thumb and often leaning in to bump opposite shoulders. This shake is also a familiar greeting amongst men in some Native American cultures.
  • Members of the Boy Scouts of America use a left handed shake, referred to as the 'scout shake.'This was a convention started by Lord Baden-Powell. Tradition states that Baden-Powell was impressed by a legend he heard while he was in West Africa. The story goes that two warring chiefs desiring peace, confronted one another. One chief dropped both his weapon and his shield. Not only was his right hand empty of a weapon leaving him unable to attack, but his left hand was left empty of a shield and he was thus unable to defend against the weapons of the other.
  • Those who practice the sport of fencing traditionally shake using the non-sworded hand at the conclusion of their bout.
  • Many secret societies, fraternities and sororities employ secret handshakes enabling them to identify initiated brothers and sisters.
  • Some cultures have a habit of shaking both hands.
  • In Western culture, handshakes should be firm as weak handshakes are considered limp and cold.
  • In European countries such as France and Italy, the norm is to shake hands every time you meet someone.
  • In some Muslim countries (such as Turkey or the Arabic-speaking Middle East), a grip that is too firm is considered to be rude behavior.
  • In China, not only are weak handshakes preferred, but the custom is to hold on for an extended time after the initial shake.
  • In Turkey, the casual standard greeting is usually a kiss on the the cheek twice. In some cultures the handshake may be concluded by the open palm of the hand being placed on the heart

As you greet others cross-culturally you should also remember that some religions, such as Orthodox Judaism and Islam, prohibit physical contact between men and women. In these situations follow the lead of the others around you. In general, men will exchange shakes with other men and likewise the women with other women. In place of a shake it is appropriate to give a short nod of your head.

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