With flu season already upon us, I can't stop thinking about President Obama's shared chest bump with a Naval Academy graduate. That was when I added chest bump to my list of handshake alternatives. In fact, I've been on the lookout for germ-free ways to greet people ever since the outbreak of Legionnaire's Disease during a 1976 convention in Phladelphia. Given the increasing number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it baffles me that folks continue to press palms when they meet. At the peak of the swine flu scare, the President advised Americans to wash hands frequently; I wish he had also encouraged substitutes for the ubiquitous handshake.
Ixnay to those handy anti-bacterial sanitizers, the widespread use of which risks spawning additional resistant bacteria. Better to use ideas from my list, including one I picked up in 2002 when hundreds of cruise passengers came down with the Norwalk virus. I tipped my hat to those on the ship's subsequent voyage for rubbing elbows instead of shaking hands. Perhaps we could designate rubbing elbows our national salutation, the way the oak is our national tree.
If chests or elbows aren't your thing, how about thumbs? I'd be up for thumbs up as a hygienic hello. The yogic namaste, palms together in prayer formation-mingling only your own pathogens-works too, with the added benefit that it signals respect. Speaking of respect, we could bow, like the Japanese, keeping a safe distance so as not to bump heads.
Unless everyone agrees simultaneously to make the shift, there will be a period of lopsided encounters with one greeter extending a hand and the other, say, curtsying. But we have to start somewhere, like the audacious soul who signed on for the first telephone. To alert others and fend off unrequited hand extensions, we could each wear a narrow loop of puce-colored ribbon, since pink, red and other good hues are already taken.
And, while we're at it, let's wave good-bye to the awkward, unpredictable air kiss.
I'm such a worrywart and welcome additions to my collection, so if you have other handshake alternatives, I'd love to hear from you in the comments.