I find myself driven to distraction by the common use of the “high five” in lieu of a traditional handshake .

I have always viewed the exchange of a handshake as a display of trust and goodwill.  Seeing people using the high five instead leaves me irritated.

Learning how to shake hands was a right of passage.  It was high up on my list of childhood accomplishments, along with looking both ways before crossing the street, tying shoelaces in a bow, and riding a bicycle.

My Grandfather taught me to shake hands when I was about 5 years old.

“Stick out your right hand. No, your other  right hand. (giggles)  Grab hold of my hand, nice and tight. No, not that tight! (more giggles) Just like this…  Now shake our hands up and down… one…two…three!  There you go!  Now try it again…”

Shaking hands with Grandpa didn’t preclude exchanging big hugs during our first moments of greeting, but after those initial squeezes, he would indulge me with plenty of handshake practice. His was a firm, exuberant handshake, and I saw that he used it liberally for greetings, leavetaking, agreements, and for general display of affection toward other people. I learned by osmosis when a handshake seemed appropriate, which is pretty often. I reflexively extend a hand to whomever I meet.

Why don’t I like the high five?   I think it has a few intrinsic flaws.

For starters, its slapping.

Teaching our little ones to slap at us can’t be good.  Youngsters tend to ‘slap’ anyway, and aren’t coordinated enough not to knock Granny’s glasses smooth off her face when she tries to say hello. The kid thinks he’s giving Granny the ‘high-five’, and promptly gets ‘what for’ for slapping Granny.  It’s just too ambiguous a set of rules for a small human being to absorb. Slapping is a no-no unless you are slapping someone to show happy agreement with them. Huh? It even confuses me.

The traditional handshake is pretty unambiguous. Take hold of hand, pump up and down a few times. Done.

Plus, if you don’t want to kiss Granny hello, you can conveniently keep her at arms distance while still showing respect.

In addition, high fives have greater potential for embarrassment than does the traditional handshake. I have seen too many high fives go unnoticed, leaving one person with their arm conspicuously up in the air like they are requesting a bathroom break or are a crossing-guard-in-training.  A handshake, if unrequited, goes virtually unnoticed, and can easily be redirected to appear as if choosing an hors d’oeuvre from the buffet table.

Or, while trying to complete the high five, lack of coordination on the part of one or the other ‘high fiver’ creates a flailing mess of hands way up in the air for all to view the inherent ineptness. If it devolves into more than two attempts…well, it’s devolved.  Not pretty.

In addition, it doesn’t have the interchangeable quality that a traditional handshake does.  Somehow, asking a stranger to ‘high five’ me upon first meeting just seems too familiar.  And I can’t see ‘high fiving’ a potential employer in a conference room, or using the high five as a means of expressing condolence to someone at a funeral.

Missing the opportunity to teach our children a traditional handshake, something that will better serve them all their lives, seems remiss to me.  It’s like forgetting to tell them that “please” and “thank you” are the magic words, and that sometimes shoes don’t have velcro.

I will go so far as to say this… if you feel that you must have your children do the ‘high five’, teach your children the traditional handshake first.  Once they learn to lead with that  upon greeting strangers, then  go ahead with the ‘high-five’.

Granny will thank you for it.


4 thoughts on “Handshake”

  1. I have rarely been in a more uncomfortable situation than the time our ex-financial planner wanted to fist bump my husband. Fist bump. Awkward! One of the several reasons he is no longer in our employ.

  2. I wonder how much of a part “germ phobia”, i.e. Howie Mandel, plays in the fist bump thingey? And I wonder if parents teaching the ‘high five’ is just a result of them desperately trying to find a positive ‘solution’ to their kid’s slapping?
    Everybody! Listen Up! Learn to shake hands like a grown up!!

  3. You commented on this post. http://burbanmom.blogspot.com/2008/01/story-hour-part-ii.html I tried to comment but it won’t let me since I am not a ‘team member’ of that blog. Since you were able to comment I am hoping you know the Author (Erin) personally and can pass along this message…. “Since you last posted in 2009 I am not sure if you will get this or not but I just had to try. My name is Erica Hamilton. My Grandmother is Sarah Marriott, or as she was named in this story… “Sally.” I was reading through a hard copy of this very story that I found in some of her most treasured possessions as we sit by her side and spend precious time as she is preparing to transition from this life to the next. Curiosity and a google search of ‘George Norris Hilton’ lead me here and I couldn’t leave without saying hi. For now ‘Sally’ is resting comfortably. I’ve been reading her bits of the stories your father wrote and I believe they bring her great comfort. I haven’t read a story about it as of yet but the one story she always told was of her pesky brothers locking her in the silo. :0) Hope this finds you and you and your family are all doing well.”

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