How to Shake Hands


I write this for some future reader. I suppose I always have to, but this is more specific. Particularly it’s for readers who, after the Covid-19 pandemic wraps up, don’t remember how to shake hands anymore.

You may laugh. I hope you do. But you think that shaking hands is like riding a bicycle, you never really forget. Ah, but have you tried bicycle-riding after a long time away? You start with a sensible helmet, judging the wacky helmet in poor taste for these times. Then you try putting both feet on the pedals, but the kickstand is in the way. You put a foot on the ground and try pushing the kickstand back. But you have to push it in and press backward while letting it slide out and before you know it you topple over. You fall into the bag of leaves the city isn’t collecting yet so it doesn’t hurt. But you’re making no bicycle-riding progress.

It’s like this with handshakes too. Try it now, by yourself. Reach your right hand to your left and shake. Ah! You see, right? You can’t shake a left hand and a right hand! What you have done there, my friend, is applaud. This is why you need my guidance.

I’ll get to specific instructions in a moment. But you need to know a long-range goal. A handshake done well will be both good and firm. It’s obvious why you want a handshake to be good. We all strive for the good through the limitations of our understanding and perceptions. Plato’s students wrote three false Socratic dialogues about the nature of a good handshake. (That was because they needed publication credits, though.)

But why firm? I don’t know. I think it’s to be sure we understand what it’s like being handled by an adjustable crescent wrench. It may not be comfortable but it’s better than an unadjustable crescent wrench. It also could be just that guys set the standards, and the guy standard for everything is that it should be done until someone weeps.

So that’s the long-term goal. Now to practical steps. First, with your handshakes, check that you have at least one hand. No one, however much they want a handshake from you, will fault you if you haven’t got hands. This is an out, by the way. If for some reason you can’t bear handshakes, then “accidentally” leave them back home when you go out. I don’t know how you’ll lock your door, sorry. Maybe you live in a good neighborhood.

Ready for a handshake, though? With the help of at least one other person — remember the lesson about applauding — get ready. First, hold up your handshaking hand. Spread your fingers out and then close them back until you feel comfortable. You feel comfortable when you can hold your fingers at that separation for at least 120 seconds without feeling strain. (Practice this before your actual handshaking! You want it to look automatic.) Reach your thumb out perpendicular to your hand, then touch your palm, at least two but not more than three times.

Reach your hand towards your handshake-partner’s, starting with your palm held vertical. Turn it slowly horizontal. Your model here is the Space Pan-Am spaceship space-docking in the Space Hilton from 2001: A Space Odyssey. With your space hand — sorry, hand — accidentally slipped into your partner’s sleeve, apologize. Tap your forehead and say you don’t know where your thoughts are today. You are “spaced out”, as they say. Smile with a glint in your eye. After a hearty chuckle go on about your post-handshake business.

Does it seem like the handshake’s gone wrong? You have good insights, my friend. The handshake has gone wrong, but this is what you want. By sharing in a “blunder” you’ve shared a very mild embarrassment with someone. They now see you as the partner in a special little moment of common humanity. They’ll like you more even though they have no actual reason to. And that is the secret true goal of shaking hands.

[ Me, thinking I’ve closed the essay file. ] Ha-ha! Got them all now, didn’t I? Now I can reveal my intrigue! They have forgotten that I am incompetently germ-phobic! I have always hated handshakes! I am using this as a chance to quash the habit for once and all! They have no choice now but to try hugging or just nodding nervously!

Let Me Help You Out With Hand-Washing


So here’s some more on hand-washing. People ask how I, a germ-phobic slightly obsessive person, feel about learning how everyone else hates hand-washing. Like, am I grossed out to learn that other people will wash their hands only for special circumstances, like the discovery of a new Pope? That there’s a sizable contingent of people who figure washing after you pee is just some Puritan nonsense of shaming sexual organs?

Of course not. I know the average person sees washing their hands as a special event. Something that if you did too much would devalue washing or the idea of hands. I wouldn’t have a hand-washing compulsion if I didn’t believe that most of you figure you’ll get a prize for going the whole day without washing. Roughly, since I recovered from being a teenage boy, I have assumed every person and 45 percent of the animals I encounter is a cloud of … things … I must wash off as soon as it’s not rude.

So no, I’m not at all grossed out to see people remarking on how weird it is that now, they’re damp. I see it as reassurance that I have been right all along. The only weird thing is sometimes having someone apologize to me. They say now they understand why I always have that tube of hand sanitizer on me, and also that backup tube so I can sanitize the first tube of sanitizer.

Do I take joy in the world finally waking up to cleaning their hands off in the way I have? Well, no, because of all the death and disruption and stuff. I’m not a monster. I’m not like most people. I want the world to acknowledge me as right all along, yes. But I want the world to do that after waking from an unsettled night of dreams. These dreams should involve visits from the ghosts of liquid soap past, present, and yet to come. Not after any great turmoil.

I don’t have the self-esteem to want the world to go to any great fuss for me. It’s hard enough on my comfortable sense of my own triviality to learn the people at the sandwich shop know I want the cheese hoagie. This has been a week of ever more headlines and news alerts and interruptions to The Price is Right. That’s way too much focus on me for me to like. I would complain about this more, except, to who? And if whoever I did complain to listened to my complaints and stopped all this great fuss about proving me right? I would feel worse about getting that attention on top of everything else.

One thing I know people are discovering is that if they have long sleeves, then their sleeves get wet. Believe me, I’ve been there. The obvious answer is short sleeves. This doesn’t work for me as an answer because I am cold. Since I moved out of Singapore I’ve been cold. The only exceptions have come in special circumstances, usually when part or all of me was on fire. And even then I only got up to lukewarm. Part of the joy of handwashing is if I can put my hands into boiling water then my fingers are a little less frozen. I have to wear a long sleeved something, and that’s that.

So let me offer what I’ve learned about the wet-sleeves problem. If you wash your hands up to your wrists, you get water all over your sleeves. Ah, but, if you roll your sleeves up a few inches? Then they still get all wet. If you roll your sleeves up past your elbows, wash your hands, and then dry them? Now we get some great results: it turns out you haven’t dried your wrists enough and your sleeve gets wet. So now you need to think outside the box. If you take off your shirt or hoodie or whatever garment has long sleeves, and wash and then dry your wrists thoroughly?

By “thoroughly” I mean first towel them off. Then dry your hands up above where you washed on the wrists in the hot air dryer, if there is one. Or hold your hands up, palms facing you, and walk briskly back and forth for thirty seconds if there is no dryer. Then towel off again, and then put your shirt back on?

Then, your sleeves still get wet. And the whole length, too, since it turns wrists are made of hypersponges. I’m sorry. But you would know this if you had been washing your hands all along like I did, when I was right.

Everything There Is To Say About Keeping Your Hands Warm


With the arrival of winter expected soon it’s worth thinking about how to keep hands warm. The first thing is to worry about your own hands. If it’s someone else’s hands, make sure you have standing. It’s fine to worry about the warmth of the hands of some loved one who’s right there. Or to worry about the hands of an exposure victim while you’re some sort of medical professional. Going up to strangers and telling them, “Hey! You’re keeping your hands warm the wrong way! This is what you should be doing instead!” is a good way to get slugged. For further ways to get slugged please visit this department in two weeks for the essay “Everything There Is to Say About Good Ways To Get Yourself Slugged”.

The surest way to keep hands warm is to keep them someplace where it’s not cold. Please feel free to jot down this note and to return this essay when ready. I have some projects I can be doing in the meanwhile. Warm places for hands include locations such as Singapore, outside of over-air-conditioned convenience stores; active saunas; the surface of Venus; right above space heaters; and in bed two minutes after the alarm clock has rung but it’s still dark outside. There are unpleasant side-effects to being in some of these locations. Like if people hear you’re in Singapore they want to know how you’re going to get to your 2pm shift at the Jersey Mike’s sub shop on Hooper Avenue in Silverton, New Jersey?

If you can’t keep your whole self somewhere warm, it’s tempting just to keep your hands somewhere warm. That’s great for your hands. But it leaves the rest of you stuck, since then you can’t zip up your jacket before going outside. Also you have to open the door by some undignified method, like by grabbing the doorknob in your feet or your mouth. Maybe you’re experienced and you zip up your jacket and open the door before setting your hands down in the sunlit window. But then you have the trouble of what to do when you get wherever you’re going.

Wearing gloves is a great way to turn hands that are cold into hands that shouldn’t be cold but are. Scientists have many hypotheses about why it works out like that. One good thought is that maybe you just need a more insulating glove. This lets you have hands that shouldn’t be cold but are, and are wearing more expensive gloves. One time I read the suggestion that what you really needed was to wear a thin disposable rubber glove underneath the real glove. My experiments with this that winter revealed it was a great way to make the back of my hand smell like that talcum-ish powdery stuff you get from disposable rubber gloves while still being cold.

If gloves aren’t working, have you tried mittens? The hypothesis here is that sure, any isolated finger resting in a fabric sleeve is going to be cold on its own. But if you put four whole fingers together in a fabric sleeve, then they’re going to be cold together. In exchange for this convenience, you’re less dextrous, true. But it does help you get into character pretending you’re a giant plush doll that’s somehow gotten the job of leaving the bed and going out to work a shift at a Jersey Mike’s or something, to support the family. You know, to an extent, whatever story gets you to doing what you need to do is all right.

Looking over all this I realize it sounds like I’m not very good with keeping hands warm. I’m not sure my hands have been warm since I left Singapore, except for brief periods when I was standing in the direct sunlight at the height of summer. For this I apologize, to you, and to my hands. I will try making it up to them by keeping them under warm-to-hot running water, toweling them off, and then dunking them into five-gallon jugs full of skin lotion through to about April. It’s the best I can do. Summer in 2019 is projected to be eight feet, two inches high.

How To Wash Your Hands Or Someone Else’s If Things Have Come To That


Let’s suppose you’ve decided to go along with last week’s advice and wash your hands. If you’re not willing to then I’m afraid we aren’t going to do anything useful here. Maybe we should meet again next week when I’m going to talk about how movies get made or some other nonsense like that. While I admit I’m responsible for most of what goes on around here, I can’t do absolutely everything. At some point you have to read it or in some sense neither of us exists. That sense is foolish.

To wash your hands you need a couple of things, which is how they make their money. First is your hands, or the hands of someone who’s entrusted them to your care. If they are someone else’s hands do be sure you don’t return them to the wrong person. Returning hands to the wrong person can lead to embarrassing situations. It throws off their typing and they send text messages to incorrect people. If you take anything away from this essay it should be the importance of good inventory management practices. Bring them back when you’re done.

You’ll need water, which can be found by turning on the faucet. This you do by turning the handle or pressing it down or pushing a button or something like that if it’s the kind of faucet that works. Or you might be at one of the city’s numerous weekend jazz street festivals. They’ll have those things where you step on a partly deflated rubber bladder so the spout spits a mouthful of tepid water at you. You don’t have to support the city in its weekend jazz street festival habit, you know.

If you have one of those sensor-driven faucets then you get water by punching it. At least I do. I have a skin condition which results in my being invisible to hand sensors. In public bathrooms I have to stand helpless by the sink. Then I have to wait for someone to come near and then shove their hands under the faucet, scrub swiftly as possible, and flee before they can identify me.

Identifying me is easy considering how often I wear t-shirts for obscure amusement parks and how I am taller than every person in Singapore. That last was more identifying back when I lived in Singapore. Now it’s only a solid identifier if the person I’ve technically-speaking committed battery against happens to know Singaporean demographics. You get less of that in mid-Michigan than you’d think. Not a lot less, only maybe six percent less. Still, less is less. Oh, I might also have technically committed a kidnapping across urinal lines. Anyway, I’m tall and I guess there have to be some drawbacks for how great it is otherwise.

Besides water you’ll need soap. Soap comes in solid form if you want to touch something that’s been repeatedly rubbed by strangers who needed to wash their hands. It also comes in liquid form if you want to not be sure you have enough of it. And finally it comes in a foamy form that smells great but never seems like enough even if you have a foamy puddle large enough to conceal a guinea pig. I bet someone’s working on another kind of soap even more generally inadequate. Maybe it’s a sensor-driven spray of ultraviolet waves that might not even exist. They’ll get called particles because it makes the diagrams of how to use the thing more cute. You just know they’re going to do that. Punch the ultraviolet-particle soap dispenser now, before it even exists, and don’t stop.

To clean the hands apply water and soap to your hands or the hands of those in your cleaning custody until cleaning is done. Drying your hands afterward used to be optional but not required. Many of us liked doing without this step. It let us brush a slightly-soapy water film over the whole world, one or two hands-widths at a time. But with the rise in smart phones there’s no doing that anymore. The water gets underneath your phone’s protective screen layer somehow and screws up everything, even tapping stuff nowhere near the trapped water bubble. Such are the ways new technology ruins old lifestyles.

A squirt of hand sanitizer is an excellent way to turn hands you’re not sure are clean into hands that feel gummy and unclean. I recommend it. Time things right and you can spend the whole day washing your hands, and wouldn’t that be an improvement on whatever you were otherwise up to?

When Should You Wash Your Hands?


Hands. They’re fine things to have. Without them, where would the glove and mitten industries be? Certainly not curled up and tossed in the corner of the shelf in the hall closet. How would we curl them up? With my toes? Maybe. I’ve got surprisingly dextrous toes. But I couldn’t curl up and toss everybody’s gloves and mittens in a world without hands. There’d be too many things to take care of even if we pretend gloves and mittens are the same as the glove and mitten industries. For example there’s finding out whether I could open a jar of peanut butter with my feet. Probably not, because there’s no way I could get my feet clean enough to dream of touching the thing food is in with them. I have a hard enough time walking into the pantry in bare feet.

Which brings me to my topic and you to relief that I have a topic. A critical part of caring for your hands is washing them. And yet what do we really know about hand washing? Almost everything, if we’re paying attention. It isn’t all that difficult to work out. Washing of hands should be done under many conditions, among them:

When handling food. Especially if you’re handling hot soup, even if you’re doing so very quickly for fear of scalding.

After handling food. Unless you were handling it by purely psychological means guiding it to do what you wish by clever suggestion. That’s your choice, but why are you pulling these passive-aggressive head games on your bowl of Museli? Keep on like this and you’re going to be pulling pick-up artist stunts on a bag of Fritos. That’s making the world a more needlessly miserable place. Stop it. Just stop.

Before eating food. Don’t go thinking you’ve found a loophole if you didn’t handle food and just got it delivered to you by some outside agent. We’re paying attention. We aren’t going to let you get away with any argument that wouldn’t work on your mom when you were seven. And even if you did go directly from handling your food as part of preparing it to eating don’t think you can skip the in-between washing step either. In fact, just for that we’re going to say you should wash between your post-handling washing and your eating. And maybe in-between the post-handling washing and the pre-eating washing. And if you think of complaining about that then we’ll give you something to complain about.

After coughing or sneezing into your hand. Also after blowing your nose into your hand. We could avoid this easily if people didn’t make the mistake of coughing or sneezing or boogering into their hands but so many of us do. It’s natural. What else are we supposed to do but put the body parts we use to interpret and manipulate the world directly in the midst of an unpleasant eruption of secreted body fluids? You could lift your arm and cough, sneeze, or whatever into the inside of your elbow, according to a panel of American Medical Association doctors who were kidding but are sticking with that advice now because they’re delighted to see how many people are actually doing it. They want to know how far this will go. You would too.

When you are coping poorly with regret for past mistakes. Not sure when that is? You can set some time and trust it’s about the right amount of your life spent coping poorly. Use this simple guideline. Add 15 to your age and spend that percentage of the day in futile self-recrimination. So for example a 37-year-old would spend 52 percent of his or her waking day trying to wash off the guilt. Add five more percent if absolutely everyone agrees something was not by any reasonable measure your fault.

You know what? Between each bite of food too. We warned you.

After using the bathroom, but before leaving it. We agree there’s the obvious problem here of how you’re supposed to get out of the bathroom without touching something that’s been spending all its day, every day, in the bathroom. Recommended is to find a clean enough section of the bathroom and make gentle whimpering noises until someone comes in and checks on you. Race through the open door, tackling your rescuer so they don’t get stuck in the bathroom too. You absolutely don’t want to get stuck with yourself on the outside and your rescuer on the inside of the bathroom because then there’s no way out except getting yourself stuck in there again, all the while that your soup is getting cold and well-handled.

Before handling food. We saw you skimping earlier. Go back and do it again.

Note: washing can be done by yourself. There is no need to pay for specialist services or to have your hands sent out for custom care. It’s nothing but profit for the dealers.