Just Saying

Hi honey, let's shake hands

Trump's greeting raises a vital issue - it's time to make spousal handshakes great again

In my never-ending quest to saving life as we know it, last week I decided to shake my wife's hand.

For some reason, she wasn't really into it.

OK, maybe that's putting it a bit mildly.

What's that word again when someone looks at you puzzled and hurt but yet not entirely surprised? You know, like when someone has long suspected you are on the verge of insanity and suddenly receives a bit of concrete evidence?

That was the look my wife gave me when she dropped me off and I extended my hand in what I thought was a husbandly farewell greeting.

To her credit, though her facial expression made it clear she was having trouble processing the set of circumstances she was in, her instinct for politeness still prompted her to take the hand.

I gave a firm, business-like handshake - as if we had just agreed on a new regime of sanctions on North Korea - then I went on my merry way.

US President Donald Trump's handshake with his wife Melania, after she introduced him before his address to military personnel at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Sept 15, prompted many to mock the couple's current relationship.
US President Donald Trump's handshake with his wife Melania, after she introduced him before his address to military personnel at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Sept 15, prompted many to mock the couple's current relationship. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Some of you might be wondering how a spousal handshake might have anything to do with saving the world. The answer is Mr Donald Trump.

Since the reality TV star became United States President, he seems to have fashioned himself into the world's pre-eminent awkward handshake artist.

He famously gave Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a trademark grab-yank-and-pat handshake, one that seemed to last longer than the tenure of his communications director. He followed that up with an even longer handshake in what appeared to be a makeshift arm-wrestling match with French President Emmanuel Macron.

He also refused to shake German Chancellor Angela Merkel's hand and got out-manoeuvred by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In his hands, the innocent handshake was slowly becoming a contest.

Then just two weeks ago, he turned his attentions to spousal handshakes. US First Lady Melania Trump was speaking at a podium introducing her husband when he walked over, shook her hand and then gave her a gentle shove in the direction he wanted her to go.

The act prompted many to mock the relationship President Trump has with his wife, with many thinking back to the time when he reached out to hold her hand and she swatted it away like it was a mosquito.

Now while I have never once considered shaking my wife's hand prior to watching the video, I had similarly never thought it could be a symbol of marital strife.

Isn't a handshake just another form of greeting?

I don't always hug my loved ones. Sometimes I wave at them, sometimes I high-five or sometimes - especially if it's my brother - I sort of grunt in a general direction. And while I would not normally shake hands with immediate family members, I feel like I should be able to if I wanted to.

Yet, now, after seeing Mr Trump do it, the whole thing feels very weird. And I am forced to conclude that this is part of his plan to destroy handshakes.

To be completely fair, the history of handshakes suggests that it isn't completely innocent.

Historians suggest that handshakes originated in mediaeval times as a peace gesture, allowing two parties meeting to prove that neither one is holding a weapon. In other words, the only time you would need to shake hands was if you were greeting someone who you thought might want to kill you. (Back then, friends with little fear of mutual stabbing just did fist bumps.)

Along the same lines, it could be argued that handshakes continue to exist despite the invention of metal detectors and enhanced pat-downs because humans still see a need for the specific sentiment that handshakes used to communicate - specifically, that while this is a peaceful meeting, I don't yet entirely trust you not to stab me with a spear.

And that would be a fair argument for why someone should not shake hands with a spouse.

Yet, there is also some evidence to suggest that handshakes aren't all violence-related.

One of the earliest depictions of a handshake comes from a 4th-century grave relief featuring Thraseas and Euandria. The two are husband and wife. The historical record does not appear to show any overt tension between them. It does not say, for instance, that just prior to the relief being made, Thraseas had eaten the last piece of ondeh-ondeh.

Now, I don't have a specific theory as to why Mr Trump is trying to ruin handshakes for everyone but I worry about the implications once this simple gesture is rendered too awkward for polite company.

After all, before anyone really got to try it, he has already ruined spousal handshakes. It's 2017 and, yet, I cannot shake my wife's hand without prompting suspicions of mental instability.

Anyway, I fear that if we don't fight back, we might end up in a situation where handshakes are frowned upon and you are forced to air-kiss a client, or worse yet, your boss.

So decisive action is required and it needs to start in our homes.

And that's why I am putting out this plea today.

Whenever you see your wife or husband or girlfriend or boyfriend, do everyone a favour: shake hands.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 01, 2017, with the headline 'Hi honey, let's shake hands'. Print Edition | Subscribe