15 March 2020
- Straight & Two Beers
Covid-19 turns etiquette on its head
I have, with immediate effect, suspended the practice of shaking hands and giving high fives.
For one thing, shaking hands when we greet is not even African.
My rudimentary research shows it dates back to the 5th century BC in Greece as a symbol of peace, showing that neither person was carrying a weapon.
These days it has become so ubiquitous that you may never have thought about why people shake hands.
In the corporate sector and urban environments, it is seen as a sign of professionalism to press palms.
However, in light of the dreaded coronavirus descending on our shores, it has become deadly to shake hands. Health experts have always urged people to wash their hands constantly to avoid infection of any kind and the coronavirus outbreak has brought their advice into sharp focus.
The disease continues to down multitudes and one of the stop-gap measures to avoid infection is to wash our hands with soap and avoid shaking hands. Others might see you as an arrogant prick if you decline their outstretched hand, but these are tough times and we cannot risk our health for the sake of being polite. I am in favour of the East Asian custom of bowing when we greet instead of exchanging sweat and virus.
In countries such as Thailand and Cambodia, they combine bowing with shaking hands but it is not so common in India and Nepal except for urban office workers. Other than that, the namaskar itself is a bit formal in India and Nepal.
I was shaken out of my slumber recently when someone refused to shake my hand and told me he’d heard on the radio that doing so could be fatal. We chuckled about it afterwards although I concurred with him that he was correct to take precautions.
Long before the coronavirus made its debut, the late singing sensation Michael Jackson was the butt of jokes because he had the penchant to wear a glove and a mask to avoid any human contact that could compromise his health.
The joke is now on us as the reality of a new global pandemic wreaks havoc.
As panic grips the world, you should actually run for dear life and see a doctor when someone sneezes. It is no longer polite to say bless you when a sneeze involuntarily breaks out in your environs since it could spell something more sinister.
The time to make wearing a mask fashionable has arrived and we should all invest in masks to contain the spread of the virus.
Of course, wearing a mask and avoiding the handshake are only two of the measures we can take but they are the most effective in the interim while a cure is being sought.
Shaking hands should actually have long been outlawed. The most finicky people will tell you that it is always risky to shake hands with a stranger since you do not know where their hands have been.
For instance, you could be shaking hands with someone who minutes ago had just scratched their bum or masturbated and forgot to wash their hands.
Others still have a nasty habit of digging their noses and hygiene is the least of their concerns.
So, when we cross paths the next time, my hands will be safely tucked in my pockets and my mask firmly on my nose. It’s better to be safe than sorry.