Dear Inventive Handshakers

Dear Inventive Handshakers,

It seems simple enough. You meet someone for the first time. They stick out their hand. You look them in the eye, squint a little, show a serious, tight-lipped smile, and shake their hand with any amount of pressure you want, as long as the grasp is firmer than a limp noodle and more relaxed than a drowning man grabbing onto a life preserver. Anywhere in between those two extremes is fine.

Sure, there have always been some people who couldn't master it. You've got your guy who extends a half-collapsed pile of fingers. All you can do is briefly intertwine your hand with the digital bird's nest that's been offered to you and then try to back out in an orderly fashion. Then there's the large man with the small penis who's trying to turn the handshake into a symbol of male dominance. He clenches his jaw as he clamps onto your hand; his eyes narrow as he searches your expression for any sign of discomfort. He has wet dreams at night about some new acquaintance breaking under his iron grip, admitting his own personal inferiority, and confessing to the world what a strong, powerful alpha dog this Incredible Hulk of handshakers is.

But recently I've been stumbling ever more often across a new breed of handshaker; the inventive type, who has developed his own special handshake. It's not enough for you to shake somebody's hand and be done with it. No, you've got to turn this banal formality into a "thing." Shaking hands with anyone under sixty is now a minefield of potential social awkwardness.

There's the Spartan-style fingers-up thumb-back palm grasp; the Roman-esque parallel-forearms mutual wrist clasp; and every once in a while one of you idiots still tries to high five me. Then we have the fucking combos. Regular handshake into a palm grasp. Wrist clasp with a back-slap finish. Side hand slap into a double tuck reverse McTwist into a faux headbutt with a triple axle dismount and shooty hand pistols plus "blowing up" noise effects. All this is fine among friends, but don't greet me for the first time with your concoction. Or the second time. I'm probably not going to remember your name, much less your personal handshake creation. The whole point of the handshake is that it's standardized so everybody knows what they're supposed to do. There is no way that I can anticipate your little routine. Instead I just stand there like an idiot and feel awkward while you play Pattycake Pattycake Baker's Man with my hand for five minutes. All I wanted to do was meet this moron and move on with my day, but instead I'm being initiated into some kind of Super Secret Detectives Club, of which I may or may not actually want to be a member. It really depends upon what kinds of mysteries we get to solve and whether or not we have decoder rings.

Then there are the germophobic-inspired handshake substitutes. They might be the worst of all. I try to always scratch my scrotum with my knuckles, just on the off chance that I'm introduced to one of these Howie-Mandel-types who think they're beating the system by avoiding contact with people's palms. "Pound it, Dude!" Ok, 'Dude,' but just know that one of those hairs on your knuckles is now a little curlier than the rest... because it's actually one of my pubes that is now nestled comfortably on its new home- your hand. With any luck it will transplant, colonize, and I can call you Pube Fingers at some point in the future. Only I'll slip it into casual conversation so you won't really realize what I said until something stirs in your subconscious as you look down at the oddly curly hairs that are only growing on your right hand while you're trying to fall asleep later that evening.

I once fist-bumped Howie Mandel's head. The pube transplant, however, ultimately proved unsuccessful and he slowly became bald once more.

Most of you back-slapping fist bumpers could learn a thing or two from the best handshakers in the world- women. Women don't invent stupid handshakes. They don't try to intimidate people with their hand strength. There are no weird, caveman bonding rituals at play. They just shake the hand.

There's only one improvement to the handshake that could be made- and that would be having no handshake at all. That's what I would propose if I were the inventing-handshakes type. From now on we all just smile and say our names when we make someone's acquaintance, and save physical contact for friends, family, and the people we're having sex with. But in the meantime, as long as the tradition persists, just shake my fucking hand and let's be done with it.

Sebastian Braff


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