August 20, 2010

Hands: Shaken, or else Stirred

The elegant Lily Lemontree has been on top form of late, and if you are not among her followers already, I hasten you there. Of her recent posts, one on shaking hands caught my attention in particular. Anyone with any doubts about the whys and wherefores of this essential practice should look in with alacrity. I thought I’d add my two penn’orth on the subject, for the first one ever knows of a man is his handshake, and its importance cannot therefore be overlooked.

There are many good reasons to shake hands. First and foremost, the handshake behoves each participant to make eye contact, and a failure in this regard arouses all manner of suspicions about character. A man who cannot look another in the eye betrays a want of something – a mere lack of confidence may be misconstrued as shiftiness – and the other shaker would be judicious in proceeding with caution.

Second, the handshake establishes an equality between men, for if done properly each shaker will respect the other as well met. If not done properly, however, a superior shaker will immediately assume superiority over the man who proffers a limp wrist, or too soft a squeeze. The hierarchy may not be justified in fact, but how is the man who puts forward a sock in a cup for a handshake supposed to recover his status? First impressions are lasting impressions, and we should do well to remember that beginning on the wrong foot – or wrong hand – will set us back considerably.

The handshake is the very standard of sportsmanship. After fierce competition, the declaration of no personal animus ensures that the game continues to be played in the right spirit.

Finally, there is the horror, and the offence, of the absence of a handshake. Nothing could be more disturbing than a failure to shake on first meeting. I can think of no good reason for such a failure, and please spare me your hygienic scruples. What are we to make of such a man? Since he makes nothing of himself, I suggest we also make nothing of him.


  1. Good post. I did read that in the past a handshake showed no agressive intent because in doing so you used your right hand which couldn't therefore be on the hilt of your sword. As it is it's a must for meeting people, if a person wants to deal with you whether in business or as a friend, yet won't shake your hand, then it seems to me condiscending.

  2. Thanks to you Peter, as always. I'm very partial to such historical explanations. This one is just the ticket.

  3. Good doctor, let me add that the martial reason behind the handshake went hand in hand, to put it that way, with mistrust of left-handed men. If you think symbols mean very much, ponder the problem this thing raises...

    But outside of the martial, the democrats also love to shake hands, women as much as men, almost. But I should think aristocrats raised an eyebrow at this kind of behavior. And I sometimes envy their distance.

    Do you know, doctor, there was even one American president who didn't shake hands with the people? He bowed courteously. It is very hard to make an exception to this rule, but he embodied everything it took, although I am unsure as to the reasons. It was George Washington, of course.

    I have always preferred the Roman salut, so let me salute you...

  4. It is indeed a sinister problem.

    Interesting note about Washington. I should very much like to know the reasons, if an historian out there is aware of them.

    I acknowledge your salute and reciprocate.

  5. Thank you so very much for the kind mention!
    Excellent post, I hope you don't mind if I add a link to your post on mine.
    Just lovely when great minds think alike, isn't it!

  6. I greatly enjoy your blog Mr. Beatum, and thanks for pointing me in the direction of Ms. Lemontree's blog, it looks just as fabulous!

  7. You're welcome Lily, and by all means link away.

    Thanks, as ever, Rhubarb, for all the comments.


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