No one knows how to say “hello” anymore.

Suddenly, because of the pandemic and Covid 19,  no one knows how to casually say hello anymore. Especially if you’re going to be someone who travels frequently, meeting new people from new places, it feels important to offer some sort of physical gesture.

Handshakes started as far back as 5th century B.C., thought likely a formalization of a pact between two parties. Homer references handshakes in both “The Odyssey” and “The Iliad,” usually as a display of trust.  The handshake as a daily greeting started in the 1800’s, and in the 1900’s handwashing emerged as a way to stave off spreading germs. But now, with COVID-19 and the global pandemic, there are calls to drop the handshake altogether.

What will be the “new normal” for business greetings post Corona virus now that handshakes are no longer recommended? And what’s the etiquette for turning down a handshake? 

Now that America is starting to move forward in opening and businesses begin to re-open, how will we greet each other? The handshake, a staple of business meetings, is under siege. The coronavirus is reshaping social and workplace norms, so keeping one’s distance is now the polite thing to do.  So what replaces the handshake? That’s up for grabs, so to speak.

France’s Health Minister, Olivier Véran, advised against shaking hands as well as cheek-to-cheek kissing, known in France as “faire la bise” (literally “to do the kiss”). To elbow bump or chest bump…. It just doesn’t seem professional and besides, aren’t we being told to sneeze and cough into our elbows?

 “ELBOW BUMPS”- this seems to be one gesture gone by.   

Some think a small head incline (as was done in the past) is a good substitute. The Japanese bow to greet one another is also easily done and seen as a sign of respect.

The Namaste greeting has been a central element of the Dalai Lama’s public persona,  to bow or to hold our palms together in greeting. “No touching, no contact, but instead a motion of respect.” Even some Quakers, for whom hand-shaking was a key part of a meeting service, replaced that with a Namaste greeting before gatherings were suspended, wrote Karin McAdams, a member of the Penn Valley Quaker Meeting in Kansas City, Missouri.

 “The namaste is sort of a nice … . I think that that’s multicultural,” he says. Asian cultures — which typically bow instead of handshake — and also strike a humble and nice tone, he says.  There also seems to be a global effort to promote Namaste as the “new greeting”.

But the lack of consensus has made contactless greetings bewildering and, frankly, a bit awkward, and etiquette experts agree. The coronavirus culture is now forcing etiquette experts to rethink how they teaches business etiquette.

But not all are ready to abandon handwashing altogether. Some prefer to employ diligent handwashing instead. Another idea is to reserve handshaking for close contacts only. Other arguments in favor of handshakes include custom, global acceptance, and the importance of human touch and physical connection. Tossing out this time-honored tradition now could be construed as an overreaction in a time when we need collective calm.

My personal preference for now is for a nod and a smile. A universal greeting that is seen as friendly, and would be good for casual as well as business greetings. 

Chances are good that once the threat of coronavirus settles, handshaking will continue as usual. But perhaps it’s time to reconsider the tradition — one we know leads to illness and disease transmission. Handshakes may survive the test of time (and an immunization development), only time will tell….