Handshakes: A risky ritual?

Have you ever given any thought to handshakes?

Probably not, right? It’s a ritual we learn when we are kids, and we probably shake hands with hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the course of a lifetime without giving the process much thought.

But I got to wondering this morning, after writing the preceding post yesterday about “killers in our midst everywhere,” how many people would extend a hand to a known convicted murderer or rapist once they had served their time and were released from prison.

What if you were introduced to, say, Karla Homolka (mentioned in preceding post) and she extended her hand to you? Would you shake it?

I think most people would refuse to shake the hand of someone they knew — or strongly suspected, i.e. O.J. Simpson — had committed a horrible crime, because they would feel soiled afterward. Ditto for shaking the hand of someone like Donald Trump and other politicians of his ilk, right-wingers etc. If protocol or etiquette forced you to shake hands with some thoroughly unlikable politician, you’d probably be using hand sanitizer or a bar of soap soon afterward.

Which got me to thinking further: when we do shake hands with someone, we seldom, if ever, wonder what that person was doing with their hand before the shake, and if that hand extended to us is clean and germ-free.

Scenario: man takes a pee at the urinal, doesn’t wash his hands, and is introduced to you immediately afterward in some social setting (i.e. convention, restaurant). You’re shaking a hand that just held a penis — and you might even realize that, if you give it a second or two of thought. But you don’t know that the hand wasn’t washed afterward.

And so it goes. We shake a lot of hands that have been doing god knows what. Well, we do know what to some extent because everyone does intimate and personal things everyday with the hand they extend for the handshake ritual. Think about it . . . and OMG, why can’t we just touch foreheads instead or something!?

I decided to consult Wikipedia on the history of the handshake and didn’t come away feeling reassured. In fact, my fears were confirmed: The handshake ritual can spread germs. “Handshakes are known to spread a number of microbial pathogens. Certain diseases such as scabies spread the most through direct skin-to-skin contact.”

It also suggests a couple of alternatives: “A medical study has found that fist bumps and high fives spread fewer germs than handshakes.”

In Russia, apparently, it is more appropriate for men to kiss a woman’s hand instead of a handshake, but I’m not sure I want some guy’s lips touching my hand because god knows what he has been doing with those lips . . .

I think I will opt for fist bumps in the future, though I don’t mind the kiss-kiss routine on the cheeks, either — but that’s usually a parting ritual as opposed to a greeting ritual.

Sigh . . . This whole line of thought and that in the preceding post developed for me after the latest Karla Homolka affair hit the news this week. Her crimes and her presence and visibility in Montreal society now has disturbed many, many people and got them talking about various related issues.

I have one other I am going to write about in a future post, if not the next.

— Jillian

Photo credit: Rufino/Wikipedia

5 thoughts on “Handshakes: A risky ritual?

  1. I think women don’t stop to think about this as much as men. Maybe I’m very wrong about this, but women don’t so often see how many men don’t bother washing their hands after using the bathroom, or just quickly run their hands under the faucet, but don’t really wash. For guys, we see it all the time.

    I see a number of men, in public restrooms, who wash their hands before they step up to the urinal or toilet, and they usually then wash again after.

    I wasn’t as conscious about this, myself, until I was working at a place where there were lots of events where people were shaking hands. I would see guys in the restroom who I had earlier shaken hands with, and I was revolted to observe their poor hand hygiene, and then think I had eaten food with my hand afterward. I have taken to using my left, or non-shaking hand, for handling food.

    Once, a colleague finished at a urinal and all the sinks were in use, so while he was waiting he approached me to tell me something. As he leaned towards me, he put his hand on my shoulder. Inside I cringed! I almost walked of there and straight down the street to the dry cleaners to have that suit coat cleaned!

    Now, to extend this theme, we could also discuss hygiene issues in figurative art, (i.e. model stands, sheets/blankets, stools, chairs or other places models are expected to use after other models have already been there.) But, I won’t go into those horror stories right now.


    1. Oy . . . I’m going out to dinner tonight with a group of 25. I think I will use the fist bump . . .

      As for modeling, I apply the same rule we have for naturism events: I bring my own towel and sit on it or lay on it for those types of poses.


  2. I think the Western Hemisphere, (perhaps, more accurately, the northwestern hemisphere,) needs more bidets. I’ve seen those models which fit over existing toilet bowls and have water jets at different angles. Then, we just need to eliminate all urinals!

    As for the modeling hygiene situation, yes, a towel is important, but it only covers so much space on a filthy model stand. And, unlike with Naturists, who generally all bring a towel, not all models do. I’ve seen chairs and stools I have not wanted to put my towel on, because some other person had clearly not used anything, so I just looked for somewhere else to do a seated pose, or did a different pose altogether.

    Some art schools don’t bother to launder their sheets or model stand coverings more than once or twice a year. Some have carpeting on the model stand, which seems like a great idea, except that they never really clean it. You can imagine what that looks like over time. I, and other models, have flatly refused to work on such surfaces.

    In Boston, our models guild has sent a letter to certain schools expressing concern about the unhygienic conditions models have been expected to work in, with hopes things will be cleaned up for the new academic year in the Fall.


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