Not Shaking Hands

If you see me, bump me.

While I was at FounderCon last week I got really sick and spent an entire day in my hotel room. I’m not sure if it was food poisoning or stomach flu, but either way, it was no fun.

The next day at Demo Day, I avoided shaking hands with hundreds of people, each time explaining that I was trying to keep them from catching whatever I had. Some people really appreciated it, but others seemed to be offended. At times it was very awkward.

Sometimes you don’t realize how silly a ritual is until you try to skip it and have to deal with it directly and repeatedly. Anyone who knows me already knows that I usually fist bump anyway, because I feel like handshakes don’t do much more than spread germs. But the handshaking ritual is so deeply entrenched that trying to change it is pretty much pointless.

Just ask Brad Feld. He has long maintained that shaking hands–especially during cold and flu season–only spreads germs, and he’d prefer to do away with the tradition altogether. Brad even started a movement with Paul Kedrosky — “No More Handshakes in ’09.” But as Neil Swidey reported just a few months later in the Boston Globe, the campaign was a complete and total failure. “I found that I was having the same conversation over and over, explaining why I wasn’t shaking hands,” Brad said. “I got tired of it and decided it was easier to just shake everyone’s hands and then wash mine a bunch throughout the day.”

The handshake is thought to have developed as a gesture of peace, to show that neither side was carrying a weapon in their right hand. Since I’m not really afraid that anyone I meet at a conference will be carrying a spear, you’d think we could just move past this tradition. But for the time being, it looks like the handshake will live on. It may not be logical, but plenty of people still like shaking hands, and they’re not ready to let go. I’ll keep fist bumping those I see in the naive hope that maybe, someday, the world will adopt this more sensible protocol.

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About David Cohen

Geek. Hacker. Investor. Founder and CEO of TechStars.

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  • http://twitter.com/colinloretz Colin Loretz

    We should really follow Japan’s lead on this one.

    • http://techstars.com/ DavidCohen

      totally!

    • http://www.biggerpockets.com Joshua Dorkin

      I was going to make the same suggestion. That said, I don’t see Americans adopting it, in particular due to the deference one makes to their elder or superior when doing so.

  • Jeff Crews

    I had this same problem last week – under the weather and wanting to make sure no one else got whatever I had. It’s amazing how awkward meeting someone can become when you can’t give them the common handshake (after all – it’s part of history: http://www.history.com/news/8-historic-handshakes).

    Luckily, almost everyone was cool with a “fist bump”!

    • http://techstars.com/ DavidCohen

      i was also doing elbow bumps but in Boston (germs even less likely to be on my elbow) but this seemed to be unfamiliar to them.

      • http://www.virtuallybing.com/ Bing Chou

        My 4 year old daughter and I elbow bump, but you’re unlikely to see her at a conference or take a meeting with her. I’m happy to elbow bump the next time you and I cross paths.

        • http://techstars.com/ DavidCohen

          deal.

      • Jeff Crews

        Ahh – the trendsetting “eblow bump”. Just make sure you haven’t been doing the “elbow cough” ha – http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2009/10/governor_offers.html

  • DanielHorowitz

    Fist Bump for Health.

  • Guest

    what about hugs:)

    • http://techstars.com/ DavidCohen

      genius.

  • http://twitter.com/himegansweeney Megan Sweeney

    I agree! Let’s avoid sicknesses! I like fist bumping and high fiving.

    • http://techstars.com/ DavidCohen

      *hug*

  • http://twitter.com/Alpsgm Gregg Alpert

    I’d like to live in a culture where hugs were socially acceptable! Seriously though, I agree it is always awkward to explain why you want to avoid shaking hands so I usually concede as well.

    • http://techstars.com/ DavidCohen

      i’d hug you if i could.

  • The Grimestopper

    Like to speak with you on a global game being put together by Noah Falstein engaging children all over the world to raise up following adults failure to take up the hand hygiene challenge. keith@soapstream.com.au

  • http://www.theroadtosiliconvalley.com/ Ernest Semerda

    Great points. I like the “Obama Fist Bump” since it gives a sense of humour/character to the hello vs a somewhat formal hand shake. A benefit lost in not hand shaking is the gauge of the other person’s inner circuitry.

    • http://techstars.com/ DavidCohen

      true, but the bump has styles of it’s own too.

  • http://www.feld.com bfeld

    Fist bumps rule.

    • http://techstars.com/ DavidCohen

      bump.

      • http://twitter.com/devinjelliot Devin Elliot

        ironically you are now actually carrying a bio weapon. handshakes are like blankets with smallpox

    • nielr1

      If only the Bump app came with Purell samples you’d be in heaven.

      • http://www.feld.com bfeld

        Indeed. Such simple things…

  • http://twitter.com/rsforster RichardF

    Maybe you could start a movement by wearing a coloured glove to your next convention. Fist bumping someone you don’t know just doesnt cut imo.

  • DaveJ
  • Paul Kedrosky

    I”m still on the lonely sans-Feld mission, but it admittedly has more to do with social phobias than hygiene.

  • John M. Mueller

    one has to go back and look at why there are greeting rituals in the first place. for me, i have no problem with the hand shake, the high five, the fist bump, the elbow bump, the bow, the hug, the wave, the wink, or the smile :-), because my goal in greeting people is to ensure a positive and respectful acknowledgement between one another.

    …in terms of it being difficulty and taking an immense amount of energy (and persistence) to explain to people why you don’t believe in something (or you do believe in something), that sounds like the startup environment to me.

  • http://salesloft.com/ Jon Birdsong
  • Quietyme

    could be worse…they kiss in many countries.

  • Meagan Claire

    I read that at one time, shaking hands with a woman was off limits. It was a faux pas to extend your hand to a lady. If she was interested in engaging you, she would offer her hand first. If not, you were out of luck, or a cad for being too forward. I wish that were still the case. While I’m mildly concerned about the spread of germs, I’m mostly just not interested in touching others. The handshake: forcing me to be less a lady because you are less a gentleman.

  • Brent Lafond

    Tough situation. I believe it depends on the situation but I believe that a handshake can tell a lot about a the person you are hand shaking. It is actually a very primitive form of “breaking bread”. getting the 2nd worst flu of your life on the other hand may sway my view. Although probably only temporarily. I know of a multi million dollar deal that was niched by the person on the other end of the no handshake because of ego. It occurred at a very nice and very high end Restaurant where mere formalities were being discussed and the deal was all but signed as it was being reviewed by legal and in the end the person that had not offered to shake hands ate the most expensive meal of his life. He regrets it to this day and calls it his 3.5 million dollar steak. All because he refused to shake hands with the other party. the reason was ridiculous.