Dr. Anthony Fauci has become a guiding light in a chaotic time. As Americans look for leaders and find nearly all of them lacking, the calm director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has become a beacon. His words carry weight absent nearly all the politicization that has come to define America’s battle with the pandemic. He doesn’t seem to give a shit about elections. He’s Daniel Day-Lewis behind the waterfall begging for us, the collective Madeliene Stowe, to stay alive. When he tells us things we listen. Sometimes when he tells the bankrupt real estate baron who leads us things the bloated bag of Neilsen numbers even listens.
On Wednesday he appeared on Wall Street Journal podcast, the Journal, and talked about what our new normal will look like when testing ramps up, infection rates plateau, and we carefully toe our way into the waters of a new world. “When you gradually come back, you don’t jump into it with both feet. You say, what are the things you could still do and still approach normal? One of them is absolute compulsive hand-washing. The other is you don’t ever shake anybody’s hands,” he said on the podcast. He went on to say that wearing a mask when entering spaces with large groups would be another thing to embrace.
But embracing people? Not until there’s a viable antibody test. Going to packed restaurants and sitting in a crowded theater? It could still be a while. And as for the handshake? “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again,” Fauci said.
A handshake is a common form of greeting in the United States. You square shoulders with someone, extend a hand, and clasp their own. Some eagerly pump your arm like a water spout, while others lamely stroke your fingers. Some just let you gingerly hold their hand. There are the moist handshakes and the too dry ones and the ones almost exclusively employed by assholes and siblings where they squeeze so tight you hear tendons pop.
But the handshake is, and always has been, a terrible way to greet someone. It’s gross. I’ve watched cowboys covered in mud and cow shit take a moment to pull off a glove and lean down to offer a hand I do not want to take. I’ve seen people wipe their nose before offering their hand. I, like anyone who saw Mallrats, lived in fear of the stink palm.
In much of Europe, they kiss on the cheeks or mouth or both. That helps you avoid stank hand, but doesn’t really solve the problem of disease transmission. An air kiss isn’t much better and will make you feel like an ass. In Japan, one bows with hands at one’s sides, while in Thailand a bow is executed with the hands held in front of the body in a prayer position. Yet in both cases, it can be unpleasant for someone with back or neck issues.
The elbow tap and the knee knock have both found success as people struggle to find a touch-free greeting that’s okay on the back.
But consider the curtsy.
Most women who grew up in the U.S. are familiar with the curtsy. It’s supposed to be the woman-friendly version of the bow. You tuck one leg behind the other and do a quick squat. No hands should be extended or received and shaken. If you’ve had to exit a pew at a fancy church you probably curtsied.
Back in Texas we take it, like everything else, too far and call it the Texas Dip. It’s essentially a controlled collapsing of the knees and looks incredibly stupid unless you’re in an extremely voluminous gown.
The curtsy is a deeply gendered form of greeting. When you bow there’s the chance the back of a dress might fly up showing off your underwear. The curtsy keeps all that fabric in place.
Yet men curtsy too. They just don’t call it that. Instead, they call it a “lunge” and only seem to do it when at the gym. Which does, at least, make a little sense. A curtsy is not bad for the back or neck, but it requires a strong butt and thighs and a modicum of core strength.
The strength required to accomplish a curtsy does potentially present problems similar to the bow. There is a wide range of people who would struggle with one or both forms of greetings. In that respect, the more disgusting handshake or cheek kiss is more egalitarian.
Yet in America, we pride ourselves on showcasing our strength when greeting someone. A firm handshake is considered a point of pride. Hank Hill was once so shaken by a limp one he nearly failed to vote Republican in an election. Siblings and assholes who shake your hand too hard aren’t just doing it to cause you physical pain, but to remind you of how physically powerful they are compared to you.
In America, our greetings must be strong, and I for one think there is nothing stronger than maintaining eye contact with another person as you gently lower your entire body a few inches using nothing but your quads and glutes. Fauci is right. The handshake is over. Its time to start curtsying instead.