Handshakes and kisses in a time of coronavirus
To reduce the risk of contracting the new coronavirus, people around the world are changing their greeting style. These different cultural habits can inspire alternatives.
It's one of the most widespread greetings in the business world. But will the traditional handshake go out of style? Health experts recommend avoiding it to reduce the risk of contracting the coronarvirus. Germany's interior minister took that advice seriously and refused to shake Chancellor Angela Merkel's hand. They both laughed and Merkel threw her hand up in the air before taking a seat.
France's government has advised its citizens to cut back on the traditional "bise" — greeting by kissing others on both cheeks. But French President Emmanuel Macron nevertheless gave the double-kiss greeting to Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte during a summit in Naples this week, symbolically demonstrating that he didn't fear contact with the neighboring country affected by a coronavirus surge.
It's a gesture that was first popularized by baseball and basketball players in the US. About 50% fewer bacteria are transferred by high-fiving than by shaking hands — meaning that it's still not completely risk-free.
Commonly used in sports, the greeting was also popularized by former US President Obama, shown here with Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Beyond the coolness factor, the fist bump transmits significantly fewer germs than shaking hands — about 90% less according to one study.
Hugging is another way to spread germs, but research has also shown that the warm embrace of a loved one may strengthen the immune system — and in some cases, it can boost diplomatic ties. This hug between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018 triggered various reactions on both sides of the border. They had previously opted for the more formal handshake.
Australia's New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard recommends this gesture: "It's time that Aussies actually gave each other a pat on the back for the time being — no handshaking," he said. While it transmits less bacteria than the previously mentioned forms of greetings, the pat on the back can be perceived as condescending by some people.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip wave here from the balcony of Buckingham Palace. The original gesture derived from a 18th-century tradition of knights saluting each other after removing the guard of their helmets to reveal their identity and show that they were coming in peace. Waving can, however, be seen as offensive in some countries.
Fist and palm salute
In China, where the COVID-19 outbreak began, one greeting recommendation is the traditional gong shou gesture, or the fist and palm salute, as demonstrated above by actress Miya Muqi at the Cannes screening of "Ash Is The Purest White" in 2018.
A slight bow with palms pressed together in a prayer-like position: The Thai wai greeting is widespread in various southeast Asian countries — also known as the Indian namaste or the Burmese mingalar par.
Similarly safe, Japan's traditional sign of salutation and reverence still belongs to everyday life. Learning to bow elegantly is an important part of becoming a respectable adult. Here, employees of a department store in Tokyo practice their greeting ahead of the start of a New Year sale.
A recent viral video from China shows yet another alternative to the handshake: the "footshake," also dubbed the "Wuhan handshake." Rubbing dirty feet is still safer than touching hands...
Probably the easiest way to greet someone without sharing germs and making a faux pas is to look the other person in the eyes, smile and say hello.