The other night, I went to a new wine tasting group for the first time. When I arrived, there were two women sitting at a long table.
I sat down next to the younger one, and she immediately stuck out her hand in greeting.
A long time ago, back in my youth, someone, somewhere, maybe the home economics teacher, taught a class in social etiquette. There were many rules of behavior. Some of them had to do with dating manners, such as men walk nearer the curb when escorting a woman down the street. Sounds quaint now, but originally, it was meant to protect her from the street muck in the horse and buggy days.
Nowadays, I’ve heard that the man needs to walk nearer the buildings to protect her from muggers, but that’s probably a quaint idea, too.
Men were supposed to climb stairs behind a woman so that they could catch her in case she took a tumble. Going downstairs, he would walk in front of her for the same reason.
When it came to shaking hands, there was specific decorum. A man never offered his hand first to a woman. If she wanted to shake hands, she would offer him her hand. It was always her choice.
Two women were generally not obliged to shake hands at all. The exception was when an older woman offered her hand to a younger woman. It would have been impolite for the younger woman to refuse, but a younger woman should never offer her hand to an older woman first. Ever.
Since living in Chile for five years, where the custom is to kiss on the right cheek in greeting, I’m unused to shaking hands now, but it’s more than that. I dislike shaking hands. It’s unhygienic.
With fall allergies, everyone’s walking around with the sneezes and sniffles. Even the nicest, cleanest people rub their itchy noses, including me. And don’t get me started on the people in public restrooms. How many times have you noticed someone leaving the stall without using the soap and water?
Unless it’s a business meeting, where it would appear rude to refuse, I’ve started telling people I’m not a hand-shaker when they stick their hands out at me. If I’m at an event where eating is involved, I’m even more squeamish about it. It would be awkward to shake their hand and then whip out my alcohol gel or run to the bathroom to wash up again. Call me Howard Hughes, but I don’t know where their hand has been.
Sometimes, I ask if they’d like the Chilean greeting instead. Most “Americans” turn me down.
Including the young woman from the wine tasting, but she took my refusal pretty well. If I don’t shake their hand, some people take it personally and get their dander up which makes for some uncomfortable situations.
I remember a wine and food pairing last year in Scotland. When one of the other guests poked her hand at me, I said, “I’m not much of a hand-shaker.” I asked if she would like the Chilean greeting instead. She wasn’t amused and didn’t speak to me for the rest of the evening.
I’ve learned that I have to bear the consequences if I decide not to shake hands. My choice to turn her down. Her choice to be angry about it.
p.s. I never turn down a hug.