Secret handshake

Last night, I met a guy who slings hemp bracelets. That’s not drug code or anything (the drug dealer was a different guy a few seats down the bar). The bracelet guy actually makes hemp bracelets and carries them around on his backpack. When we were introduced, he put out his hand for a shake and I did so in kind. What happened next was a repeat of every awkward introduction or meeting I’ve had in the past five years. Our hands danced like two awkward teenagers at a Homecoming affair. It had to be embarrassing to even watch.

Damn it, there used to be a time I was smooth with the handshake. Once upon a kegger, greeting or bidding someone goodbye was settled effortlessly with a quick shake followed by snapping it off with the thumb and middle finger. I mean, like normal human beings.

At some point after I left college, I was made to understand governors and lawmakers weren’t all that hip on snapping it off. So, I settled on the traditional Grip and Pump and used that until I started working in casinos. Now, depending on the circumstance, person, and reputation, I still Grip and Pump, but will occasionally use the Fist Bump/Punch It In/Pound. You know, like a reasonable adult.

My travels involve meeting new people from different cultures all the time. My job also makes sure I see many of the same people on a regular basis and have to remember a variety of handshake protocols. There is one particular young poker player who is pretty well known. I see him several times a year and he always comes in fast and hard with the handshake. I give him the Grip and Pump, and before I know what I’m doing, he’s using my palm as his own personal puppet. I walk away feeling like I just soiled myself in public. It’s embarrassing to not know how to shake hands. This happens more than I care to admit.

It’s not much different with women. Women from some countries greet me with a kiss on my right cheek. Women from other countries use the other side of my face. Some ladies go for a very confusing and potentially dangerous double-cheek maneuver. I’m always afraid our simple greeting will accidentally turn into a marriage-destroying make-out session in the middle of Starbucks. But, really, in many social situations shaking a woman’s hand is the equivalent of telling her she has fat ankles. It just isn’t done.

But, back to the handshakes. There are simply too many to remember. I cannot be expected to remember them all. There’s the Grip and Pump, the Thumb Grab, the Grip and Pump followed by the Thumb Grab, the Thumb Grab Finger Snap, the Fist Pound Thumb Grab, and the Masonic Shibboleth just to name a few. Last night, as I sipped my beer at the bar I watched a guy greet the drug dealer with a fluid Thumb Grab Pull it in Tight Shoulder Bump. When did shoulders get involved? I wanted to ask the dealer when he started Pulling it in Tight, but I was afraid I might accidentally use words that indicated I wanted drugs. The only thing worse that my wife seeing me making out with a girl in Starbucks is accidentally buying drugs from a guy and not being able to shake his hand properly. This society thing is hard.

I haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to handle this. It seems silly to sit in front of a mirror and practice my handshakes with a disembodied mannequin hand, but I’m not sure I have much choice. However, I may lose some practice time when the wife finds the handless mannequin in the closet. Those kinds of things apparently require an explanation.

So, if we meet any time soon, you’ll forgive me if I dispense with the handshaking and just give you a hug. And you’ll pardon me if I hug the wrong part of you. I’m still learning.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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7 Responses

  1. Pauly says:

    The Isabelle double-kiss. Nothing quite like that.

  2. Tiger and Stevie says:

    Otis, don’t worry about it. At times, we can be a bit awkward with our high-fives.

  3. Su says:

    Love and miss the hug!

  4. Damn it, there used to be a time I was smooth with the handshake. Once upon a kegger, greeting or bidding someone goodbye was settled effortlessly with a quick shake followed by snapping it off with the thumb and middle finger. I mean, like normal human beings.

    So f’en 90210

  5. Da Goddess says:

    I think a regular handshake and a hug are classics and therefore unnecessarily tampered with time and time again. Anyone who attempts more than that with me — bumpin’, snappin’, whatever — gets the “oh really?” look. It’s polite but with just enough of a raised eyebrow that they suddenly feel the need to go old skool.

  6. Human Head says:

    **high five, Top Gun**

    Previously you made a fine remark, something to the effect of “..their knowledge of the game is as weak as their handshake.” Therein lies your solution. Handshakes are nothing more than impression exchanges.

    You can fuck up the form and still leave an eminently favorable impression. You can get the form “correct” every time and still leave a shitty impression.

    Don’t sweat the mechanics of the thing, man.

  1. February 6, 2009

    […] might remember the Secret Handshake post I wrote in December of last year. I have a hard time with non-traditional handshakes. They […]

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