Are we back to shaking hands?

In late February 2020 I drove to my CPA’s office to drop off my tax documents. At that point, 15 cases of the COVID-19 virus were reported in the U.S. and there were over 1,100 deaths worldwide. I felt a bit nervous about the virus but not overly concerned. When my CPA came out to greet me, I noticed he had his right hand in his pocket. This was a signal to me he did not want to shake my hand. I was a little dismayed as I realized he, and most likely others, were concerned about catching the virus.  

Elbow bumps replace handshakes

On March 6 I had an in-person training, and I was now pretty anxious about catching the deadly bug. There were over 60 cases in the U.S. My client and I purposely did not shake hands and opted instead for an elbow bump. On March 11, just five days later, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 virus a pandemic and shortly afterwards states started to shut down to prevent the spread of the virus.  

Will handshakes disappear forever?

Many etiquette consultants worldwide predicted the handshake, an almost universal way of greeting others, would disappear forever due to people’s fear of transmitting germs. While I knew people would not shake hands for a while, I did not believe the practice would vanish permanently. The handshake has a lot of history. It is believed the gesture became common in the Middle Ages to show people didn’t have a weapon in their hand. Some theories posit that it was a way to show goodwill through touch. Whatever the facts are, it has been a way of greeting, agreeing with and saying goodbye to others for centuries. (According to a article there is a ninth century B.C. relief that depicts two rulers shaking hands.) Another reason I believe the practice will not fade away is handshakes are expected and, as I mentioned, mostly universal as a way to connect with others. No gesture has become the norm worldwide. This led to some awkward moments during the no-touch times of the early pandemic because no one knew what to do when meeting another person.  

The risk of getting COVID from a handshake

A couple of months ago I posted on my newsletter an etiquette tip about holding a drink in your left hand so that your right hand is free for handshaking at a social gathering. A reader asked me if we were back to shaking hands. She said she felt awkward about the expectations for acknowledging others – handshake, elbow bump, bow, Namaste, etc. What I know is the virus is not easily transmitted by touch. According to research conducted at Tufts University, the risk of contracting COVID-19 from touching a contaminated surface is less than 5 in 10,000. So, yes, we are back to shaking hands with some extra precautions. Wash your hands more often, especially before eating. Use hand sanitizer when you’re not in the presence of the handshaker. 

Handshake alternatives

If the low transmission by touch research does not ease your germ phobia, use an alternate greeting, but be intentional about it. People expect a handshake, so to make it clear you’re not pressing the flesh, as soon as you are being introduced to someone use whatever greeting version you plan to use and say, “Nice to meet you. I’m forgoing a handshake to keep from spreading germs.” 

How do you feel about handshakes? Are you back to using this form of greeting or are you doing something different? I’d love to hear your thoughts.  


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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. Sheri J Kennedy on October 4, 2022 at 10:13 am

    I’m an insurance agent and greet clients professionally. Since many people are still wary of handshakes and some see them as inconsiderate of their health, I use a friendly head nod and a big smile while saying, “Hello, I guess handshakes are out these days, but I’m very glad to meet you.” (…to see you.)
    It’s been well received with a an appreciative laugh and obvious relief by those walking in. I think it breaks the ice better than the old obligatory professional handshake because it sets us up with something in common when acknowledging the awkward change of mores and what we’ve all been through with the pandemic.
    I had one returning client laugh and say, “I have no problem with shaking your hand.” So, of course, I shook it gladly.

  2. Arden on October 4, 2022 at 10:33 am

    I like how you’re handling greetings, Sheri. Sounds like a good way to approach the somewhat awkward situation.

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