A year and a half of a pandemic changed a lot of the customs and practices that were part of everyday life. All those changes were due to the need to physically-distance from each other. Those changes were difficult for some, less difficult for others. Some of those, like being unable to see family members who didn’t live with you, was incredibly difficult, but necessary.
There were some of these customs and practices that were very easy for some of us to drop. Now that the pandemic appears to be easing – for now – there is a chance that these practices will return. I hope not.
One such practice is the handshake. Routed in medieval times where knights and princes would shake hands with each, shaking hands was proof that they didn’t carry a concealed weapon intended to injure or kill the other person. That was over 1,000 years ago and like using leaches as “modern medicine,” it is time for this practice to go.
I was glad during the pandemic not to shake people’s hands. Even the elbow bump that was adopted early on in the pandemic as a show of politicians “getting it” was too much.
I am not a germophobe by any means, but grasping hands with unknown people seems wrong to me.
We are a modern people. We have indoor plumbing, gadgets that can call places around the world, and the ability to get from Point A to Point B faster than said knight of the round table. We can use our words to greet people – we don’t need to grasp each other’s hands in a firm, hand-crushing embrace. No concealed maces or daggers please.
Some cultures are more civilized in greeting each other. In Japan, you bow to each other as a polite sign of respect and greeting.
People from Zimbabwe clap their hands at each other – first one person, then the other in response. And in Tibet, people stick their tongues out at each other. That started when Tibetan monks were unhappy with a bad king. The monks would stick their tongue out in protest, and the custom stuck and is used to this day as a greeting. No contact involved, thankfully.
Another custom that has, for the most part, fallen by the wayside is needless, in-person meetings. Yes there still are endless, and many times needless, online meetings. But those are easy to ignore. Tune in, flip a web browser tab open on something that actually interests you, and tune out. Remember to check in when you hear your name called. It worked for school this year. But in-person needless meetings have disappeared.
Finally the connection has been made that instead of calling endless, pointless, mind-numbing, in-person meetings, there is technology that exists and can be used: email. Yes! Why drag a group of people into a room to pontificate about something only the pontificator cares about? Just send an email.
Some politicians have yet to figure out that emailing an announcement would be a better use of everyone’s time than holding a virtual press conference. Those conferences usually entail political leaders taking turns reading said email announcement, and then dodging reporter’s “one question, one follow-up.” Send the announcement by email thank you.
I would like to think that these societal changes, the evolution of conduct and decorum in a pandemic, will remain once this public health crisis is in the rear-view mirror – I really would. But they won’t. Most people will revert. Either out of a sense of “reclaiming” what was lost or missed; or because they fall back into the societal “norm.”
When out and about this week, I saw signs of people hesitantly reverting, leaning in to shake hands with awkward looks like “should we be doing this yet?” No. Stop it. Don’t do it!
On the other side of this pandemic, I am opting for change. I am going to take a more refined cultural view and send emails instead of meetings. And when greeting people, I will adopt the Tibetan way. Good thing we’re still using face masks.
Originally published in the July 28, 2021 issue of The Morrisburg Leader.