I’m Done With Handshakes


I don’t know who invented the handshake, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it was a bad idea.

Having been married to a nurse for seven years, I have managed to become quite the germophobe. I never really thought that much about germs before I met Jess and though I didn’t get sick all the time, one or two colds a year was pretty normal.

It only took a few months of living together before the new rules were thoroughly ingrained. Coming home from anything? Wash your hands. Rode the bus? Don’t even think about touching anything before you wash your hands. Getting into the car after a grocery run? Would you like hand sanitizer with that?

Even with my genetically enhanced stubbornness, I got the message pretty quickly. Though after seven years together she will still ask if I’ve washed my hands after returning home, just to be sure.

My colds went from one or two per year to every other year or better. What do you know, science might be on to something!

My vigilance must have slipped lately because I caught a cold just two weeks ago. It was cause for concern because I’m having minor surgery to remove some fibroids and if I was sick, then it would have to be postponed, probably for months. Luckily I recovered quickly and after that, I was even more paranoid.

I saw a news story recently about the fact that it’s not the cold that makes everyone get sick in the winter. It’s the fact that we congregate indoors because it’s cold. shaking hands, touching doorknobs, and touching our faces where our eyes and noses are just waiting to collect something nasty.

I’ve been to two events with large groups of people this week, and with the stake higher than usual, I made the decision to avoid all handshaking.

Easier said than done.

The conditioning of a lifetime is hard to break in a single evening. The first time a hand was offered to me, I explained that I wasn’t shaking hands. But later in the evening, my guard slipped and I reflexively reached out and grabbed–then instantly regretted it. I headed off to the restroom shortly after, to wash up.

Yesterday I attended my first Lunch 2.0, a networking event for tech professionals. This was going to be big challenge. Along with my name and title on my name tag, I wrote in parenthesis “(I don’t shake hands).” Lots of people still stuck their hands out at me of course, but I kept mine in my pockets, and explained that I don’t shake hands (at which point they would usually read the message on my name tag and we’d move on).

It worked pretty well. When a friend offered a pink swear instead, I countered with a hug, after which we ‘air fived.’ For strangers, I think fist bumping would be a good alternative as well, though I haven’t tried that yet.

I count the whole experiment was a success. And the more I thought about it, the more I realize there’s no reason to go back to risking my health just because of some stupid tradition. The Japanese are on to something with their custom of bowing. Much more sanitary.

So I’m planning to stick with it, and with any luck, I’ll just become known as ‘that weird person who doesn’t shake hands,’ and life will move on as usual–hopefully with less sniffling.

Update December 29, 2013: It’s been about a year, and despite my best efforts, I finally caught a little cold this month, after one too many holiday gatherings with my family.

A friend brought me Dr Shen’s Yin Chiao Chinese herbsDr Shen's Yin Chiao Chinese herbs and said they knocked out his partner’s cold in a day when she took them immediately, while he did not take them and suffered for six days.

I remember getting something similar from my former roommate (an acupuncturist). I chugged the pills and in two days I was pretty much back at 95%. Your mileage may vary.

Valorie has some good tips for preventing colds while traveling, and a much longer list of cold-fighting techniques.


  1. Righteous, Kronda. Glad that method works for you. I have the opposite approach, and expose myself to everything and just don’t mind it. (I find the constant hand washing to be really hard on my skin, because I have eczema, and alcohol-based antibacterials have been shown to carry dangerous chemicals and are now banned in a number of states.) And yet I still don’t get sick that often! So maybe it’s unrelated. But I also try to keep up on my vitamins and take the appropriate steps when I begin feeling under the weather.

    I’d rather have the immune system of a horse and be able to fight everything than be a delicate flower. 😉


    1. I used to be like that, mostly because I never thought much about it until I married a nurse! I think my immune system is pretty good. My wife is not exactly a delicate flower but being a cancer survivor compromised her immune system so the less I can expose her to, the better. And of course, being sick sucks, so it works out well for both of us, and makes a great conversation starter at networking events. 🙂


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