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Friday, April 23, 2010


I had occasion to shake hands with an 18-year-old the other day, and was a bit thrown by what he did. Before I could move in for the regular handshake, he grabbed the tips of my fingers with his, and then sort of raised my hand and then threw it down. It wasn't a limp fish handshake, merely a different style of shaking. I asked my daughter about it later, and she told me that that was just the way young people shake hands these days.

This was a perfectly polite kid who meant no disrespect. But it reminded me of many previous such transactions. Whenever someone gives me anything other than the standard old-fashioned handshake, and I go along with it, it makes me feel a little phony. This time it made me feel a little as if I were trying to come across as younger than I am.

Last summer a friend held out his hand to give me the fist bump, which is more a black thing than a white thing. This friend is very cool, despite which he does have a tendency to be slightly trendy. In any case, it would have been rude not to go along with it, so I fist bumped him back. But it left me with the feeling that I was trying to convey the message that I was down with the bruthas. The bump left me wanting to cry out, "Hey, I'm against affirmative action!"

I used to have the same feeling when people would give me the thumbs-high-and-around soul shake. I was never quite forceful enough to try to wrestle their hand back down into the normal traditional handshake, and left me feeling as if I were trying a little too hard to pose as a hipster.

Maybe from now on I'll just wrestle their hand back into normal handshake position. With a young person I'll quickly reach all the way in and grasp their hand in the old-fashioned way. And if someone offers his fist for a bump I'll put my hand around his fist and shake it.

That will be much better, as it will leave the other party feeling lame and out of place.

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