But why do your hands shake? It’s probably a question the baboons and chimpanzees ask of our species when we humans bump into each in the forest and engage. Obviously, there’s that answer that we might have for them; of, maybe ‘shaky hands because of “essential tremor” or a “blatant abuse of alcohol”.
However, I really meant “why do we shake hands”? After the handshake shenanigans, we’ve ridden through in the past month in Nairobi and parallelly on the South-North Korean border, I’ve been wondering about the real essence of that symbol of ‘greetings’. Apart from the dolphins, who whistle to each other from far away to pass a signal and then travel with each other in silence after they catch up on one another, I haven’t seen another form of greeting that I can label ‘dignified’ amongst species. The lawyers are the worst species. They bump into each other, throw random words in a dead language at each other (probably Latin) to confuse all the other species, then lie happily ever after. I mentioned the dolphins because that ‘travel with each other in silence’ part is the real deal. If only people did that to me in public transport!
Most likely, the marabou storks hovering over the city see us do the handshake and really wonder. Ponder even. Including the worms in their mouths. Why not shake other body parts? Like the bum. That people just meet, stick their palms together and move the hands up and down in pendular cycles, only to detach them unexpectedly and go on as if the other species in the world don’t deserve an explanation. I pity the baboons and chimpanzees most. I’ve peeped on them in a park many times trying the same thing after humans have left them and when they perceive there’s no one in sight. After the handshake, they just look at each other weirdly and wonder what on earth just happened. Then they notice that there’s nothing there. In shaking hands.
The first handshake dates back to medieval periods I hear. Everyone was scared of the other then and humans were not everywhere like they are right now. I mean … today there’s literally no space for me to scratch some itchy place outside the house without looking obscene. And so? Meeting a fellow human in the streets was a sign of danger; you either retrieved your weapon or dashed into the bush. After humans discover there’s no need to slaughter each other, they started extending the hand to show that they were actually hiding no weapon in the hands. It’s not as polite as it sounds. In fact, what happened, the hands would be shaken vigorously so that if there were any concealed arms in the sleeves, they just fell off.
Must have been fun to do handshakes those days huh? Fast forward to today and I’m just here puzzled over what happened. I really don’t shake hands with strangers in town; even if they mean well. Sometimes a stranger does mean well, especially if he’s a salesman. But things have happened. I once shook the whole of a stranger’s arm off by myself. I thought I’d just discovered the supernatural exquisite powers that a grandpa had once told me ran in the family centuries ago. Turns out it was just a plastic arm and I had unbolted it from its hinges at the shoulders. I was so scared. I wanted to run away but there were no policemen around so I just collected myself. I also collected the piece of the arm. Then? I walked away confused. It’s an experience that psychologists and psychiatrists need to open a fresh chapter and dedicate it entirely ON.
The fist bump is the other invention whose origin hasn’t been really traced. It’s American anyway. It’s the perfect well-intended gesture when you’re not sure of the hygiene of the greeting partner enough to trust his hands. What if they’re right from the public coffers? Sorry, I meant public toilet. The fist bump is cool (it has always been but I blame some of your parents for labeling it satanic). It is cool especially if you know how to do it. If you don’t, don’t try it. You’ll end up displaying that you’ve left the village recently and college is slowly sharpening you “don’t worry you’ll get there”.
I also shudder to think that there might be another form of greeting that has evolved and my farm-bred self hasn’t upgraded. Yesternight I walked into a meeting and everyone screamed: “they are here mama, give us a sign.” I’ll try that when I go back to the village.