March 10, 2008

I have a firm handshake. Some might say too firm. It is a problem which comes from doing kung fu: you learn a load of cool things which are easier to demonstrate than explain, you learn a new (and not entirely socially condusive) set of rules concerning physical boundaries and your grip gets stronger. Before you know it you are enthusiastically jamming the second knuckle of your index finger into a stranger’s shoulder joint whilst explaining the finer points of dim mak, when all they did was innocently say ‘Kung fu? That sounds cool” in order to be polite. It also makes you unwittingly crush any hand which is offered to you.

I hate the floppy handshake approach. The Queen does this. She just drops her hand into yours and lets you do all the work. In fairness, if she shook hands like I do then not only would she come across as an aggressive hand-crushing jerk, she would suffer from severe wrist arthritis by now.

When I was a student, if someone offered me their hand I would angle my hand upwards rather than downwards and go for the thumb shake. You know the one I mean. It looks like this.  This served to demonstrate to the person I was being introduced to that I am really, really cool. It also gave them the option to slip me some drugs, if they happened to be holding any. It never came up, but I liked to give them the option.

It also allowed me and the stranger to lean in and shoulder bump, which did happen occasionally. The main reason why I used to do this was because the thumb shake is the gateway to the jive handshake. I always dreamed that one day I would be introduced to a stranger, they would offer their hand, I would take their thumb and we would seamlessly flow into a sequence of fist bumps, slides, finger wiggles and fives.  The likelyhood of us both knowing the same rehearsed sequence would be low, but if we nailed it, it would be the most awesome thing which ever happened.

If it did happen we would become friends for life. No further affirmation would be required – from that moment on we would both know that we had met a soul-mate. We would not need words. If it was a girl I would have to marry her.

The thumb shake may alienate and confuse my authors and editors but, as we have already established, my current handshake says ‘aggressive hand-crushing jerk’, is ‘weird British guy who thinks he is black and from the 80’s’ any worse? More importantly, I am cheating myself out of a potential soul-mate every time I go for the traditional shake.

I feel I would be amiss at this stage if I failed to mention high fives, which I think I should also reintroduce into my repertoire. When you hit a perfect high-low there is a spark of magic. People always mess it up my congratulating themselves afterwards or, and this is just embarrassing to see, messing it up and going back in for a missed five. A perfect high low is done without eye contact or either party breaking their stride. A perfect high-low should never be acknowledged.

If we are opening the floor to high-fives then I should also consider mid-fives and fist pounding. It would make for some very uncomfortable and confusing editorial board meetings.

I know someone who greets everyone he knows with a hug. He is a big, friendly guy and it works really well. Getting hugged is really disarming: I do not think I could ever deliver bad news to him in person, it would be unbearable. I could weave some hugs into my greeting repertoire but I am not sure I have a full enough grasp of the etiquette; head position and length of hug are a delicate matter. The last thing I would want is to either deliver a dismissive squeeze or, worse, an embarrassing slow-roast hug which they have to break.

Kissing on the cheek(s) is even more of a minefield – I like to imagine that I follow the stranger’s lead on this one but, frankly, I would be more comfortable with a chest-bump.

The other problem with hugs is that it brings me back to the crushing-people problem again. I am fully aware that, when prompted to hug someone I generally go in hard (like, rib-creaking hard) and leave them struggling for breath. I know that I do this but am incapable of stopping it – good kung fu comes at a price.


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