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Health and etiquette: Should handshakes be handed off?

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Traditional etiquette encourages polite people to shake hands when meeting in professional and social situations. But is this courteous protocol a smart step during cold and flu season? Might folks be sharing more than manners by cordially pressing palms?

Germaphobes may cringe at the possibility. Others may join them during epidemics or when they hear a cough, sneeze, or sniffle.

Virtually everyone has heard the horror stories of folks who don’t wash their hands regularly. We’re aware that hand sanitizer gels and creams may not work as thoroughly as we once thought.

So we shrink from hand-shaking.

In fact, a surprising number of reasonably rational individuals shy away from handshakes on occasion. In one very friendly Midwestern church, for example, the pastor jokingly urges congregants to tap elbows in greeting, rather than shaking hands. It’s become a comical tradition of sorts.

Plenty of people opt for hugs, rather than handshakes, when meeting up with familiar friends and relatives. A hug tends to transmit fewer germs than a handshake, simply because the hands often carry more possible contagions than arms, shoulders, and other hugging parts.

The secret, of course, is to turn one’s head away while hugging, to avoid face-to-face germ sharing.

Still, hugging may not work in the boardroom, the job interview, or the sales call, where handshakes are as traditional as the grey flannel suit.

You are cordially invited to join (“like”) the Etiquette Examiner – Chicago and More page on Facebook for courtesy tips, as well as information and even humor on matters of manners.

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