My desk looks out the door into the school’s hallway, and right across the hallway from my door is the attendance office, and a few feet away from the attendance office is the main entrance. You could say my domain is in the middle of the action. Students are constantly popping in and out to use the computers, return books or say hello to friends or favorite teachers. In the past year I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon. Instead of the “bro-hug” that was so common in my high school days, these kids (14-15) greet each other with handshakes.
Sure, handshakes are commonplace in the adult world, but it never fails to amuse me when I see boys, no taller than me, stick out their hands. Are the boys trying to appear older, more mature? Is this simply a new trend in greeting for the school-aged?
Mostly, it fascinates me because I am not completely comfortable with the handshake. I know it’s the accepted way to greet and say goodbye when meeting other professionals, yet I always feel so awkward initiating the handshake. And I would never use a handshake with friends. Although not always a touchy feely person, I greatly prefer a hug to a handshake (although I’d prefer the handshake to the continental cheek kissing, that always makes me flustered). I am no Marianne who pleads with Willoughby, “Good God!… Will you not shake hands with me?” (Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen, p. 104). Although in Austen’s time, hugging, I’m sure, was a major no-no, especially with a member of the opposite sex.
Anyway, I started wondering about the history of the handshake. It’s such an odd form of interaction. According to my research there are several theories as to the history of the modern handshake. Some believe it started with knights in Medieval Europe who used the handshake to demonstrate their lack of weapons. Others believe it originated in Ancient Rome for the same purpose. In this instances, not only did the handshake remove large weapons from the strong hand, but each man would grasp the other around the forearm (so slightly different from the modern handshake) thus feeling for hidden daggers or other small weapons.
The handshake is also found in Ancient Greek artwork, although I could not find theories as to why the Greeks shook hands. Since the handshake evolved before written records, I suppose we will never know the true history, but it is fun to contemplate. Personally, I like this story: “two Arabs meeting in a desert. They each reach for the others hand to kiss it in greeting. However, it is an insult to have your hand kissed by another individual, so both men try to withdraw from the lips of the other man. The end result of this meeting is the acceptance by both men that they wouldn’t kiss the others hand, and thus they ended up only clasping the hand of the other, and the handshake was born. The mutual acceptance by the two men that the hands wouldn’t be kissed shows the equality between the two individuals.”
This story seems so natural to me, and I love the idea that men reacted in the same way thousands of years ago. I can see something like this happening today, and maybe I like this version because it has a little more meat, a bit more romance, as opposed to “two knights grab hands to search for weapons.” It’s also interesting to note that in every version, the handshake is supposedly created by men, which makes sense to me. I have a really hard time imagining women as the inventor of the handshake, despite Marianne and other Austen heroine’s affinity towards the display.
Andrew , Kevin. (n.d.). The handshake. Retrieved from http://soc302.tripod.com/soc_302rocks/id8.html
D’Cruz, Andrea. (n.d.). The handshake. Retrieved from http://assyriatimes.com/engine/modules/news/article.php?storyid=63
Handshake. Wikipedia. Retrieved June 8, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handshake
Haymond, Brice. (2008, February 27). The origin of the common handshake. Retrieved from http://www.templestudy.com/2008/02/07/the-origin-of-the-common-handshake/