The new etiquette norm for greetings

Yesterday, when I met with a new CPA to give him our tax documents I noticed that as he approached me he had his right hand in his pocket. While driving to his office, I had thought about whether I would shake his hand or not because of the Covid-19 virus. I was prepared to say, “Let’s not shake hands given the concerns about the Coronavirus.” Or, something like that. I was actually relieved that he seemed to be signaling to me with his hand in his pocket that he too wanted to avoid shaking hands.

Before this new virus reared its ugly head I consistently taught in my trainings that handshaking is the expected way to greet people, and to do something else, such as fist bumping or elbow touching, causes confusion and awkwardness. So, I have encouraged people to always greet others with a handshake even during flu season. Of course, I would always remind folks to wash their hands frequently and to not shake hands if they are sick. But, now with the Coronavirus spreading in our communities I am suggesting alternative behavior. Etiquette changes and evolves based on circumstances in our world.

Here are some ways to greet others without shaking hands when germs are a concern.

  • Put your right hand over your heart
  • Put your palms together at your chest and give a slight bow
  • Bump feet like they do in China
  • Touch elbows

I would suggest avoiding a fist bump because it could still spread germs. In all instances give a warm greeting to communicate your pleasure at meeting or greeting the person and communicate your intention so they don’t get confused. Example: “Let’s touch elbows to avoid germs.”

I know this is a scary time, but don’t let fear impact your good judgment and courtesy. Here are a few etiquette reminders that are always in place.

Be considerate of others. Yes, we want to be sure our families are protected against the disease, but hoarding goods is selfish and unnecessary. If our self-interest prevents health care workers from being able to protect themselves we may be in the position of not having anyone to care for us. Masks, hand sanitizer and other medical hygiene supplies are essential to healthcare workers being able to protect patients and themselves. Of course hoarding anything is very self-centered. Do you really need fifty rolls of toilet paper or five bottles of bleach? Be considerate and think of others.

Be helpful. If you have a sick neighbor or friend, offer to drop groceries or food off on their porch. This is especially important for single or elderly people who may not have others to shop or prepare food for them.

Show your appreciation. There are many people working very hard to take care of us through this pandemic – healthcare workers, government employees, hospital staff, delivery people, janitors, etc. Let them know how much you appreciate their hard work and willingness to help.

Be positive. No matter the circumstances, it’s always nicer when we focus on the positive things in our lives rather than spreading negativity and fear. And positive people are more enjoyable to be around. We will get through this health crisis and staying hopeful will help combat panic and help your immune system to stay strong.

Do you have any other etiquette tips you would like to share? Are there any greetings you’ve used or seen others use that I haven’t mentioned? Please post in the comments below.




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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 March 6, 2020 at 11:40 am

    I’m concerned that bumping elbows could still spread germs on clothing since many people have learned to sneeze into their elbow area. I really like your suggestion on putting a hand over your heart and expressing a warm greeting verbally. That’s easy to do and easy to read non-verbally as adding sincerity.
    I also appreciate your pointing out to be mindful of helping people who are sick by delivering goods to their doorstep. I’m concerned that there could be more deaths among those who get sick, whether with Coronavirus or other maladies because they might isolate themselves and others might isolate them when they need assistance.
    Thanks for this timely post!

  2. Arden on March 11, 2020 at 12:48 pm

    Thank you Sheri for sharing your thoughts. Yes, some people are concerned about elbow bumping. I see it more as an arm bump and therefore less concerning. But, do what feels right to you. The Namaste greeting (hands together at your chest with a slight bow) is a great way to greet others. Just be sure to communicate what you’re doing so someone doesn’t go in for an elbow bump when you’re doing the Namaste greeting.

  3. Julia Esteve on April 24, 2020 at 11:22 pm

    Great advice! Many thanks for the exciting blog posting about”New etiquette norm for greetings”! I really enjoyed reading it, you are a brilliant writer. I actually added your blog to my favorites and will look forward for more updates. Great Job, Keep it up..

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