The Heart-Tap: A Public Health Alternative to The Handshake

I typically don’t shake hands with men. In situations in which shaking is expected, I employ one of the following strategies:

  • Strategically hold three things in each hand (a notebook, pen, water bottle, purse, cell phone, and something else). The guy often apologizes in this case for being unable to shake, and I smile, “No problem!”
  • Explain fully, “In my religion it’s more appropriate not to shake hands with the opposite gender.”
  • Explain partially, “It’s more appropriate not to shake.”
  • Tap my hand to my heart and say nothing at all.

The first scenario represents the best case.  The rest create awkwardness.

Lately, however, my refusal to shake has been sparking conversations about public health. Sometimes people respond with, “Yeah, I heard shaking is a bad idea. It spreads germs.”

I don’t shake because I pray five times a day and prayer requires being in ablution, a state of spiritual and physical purity. Touching an unrelated man breaks the ablution (it goes the other way for men, too).

I just came across a proposal to shift our culture from hand-shaking to fist-bumping:

I wouldn’t fist-bump with men either. However, I appreciate the conversation about touching and germs. The path of least pathogens would be not to touch at all: we could all acknowledge meeting one another with a tap on our own hearts.

hearttapThe heart-tap might be more heartfelt, too.