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Perfecting the art of the American handshake

Tae Andrews | Monday, February 5, 2007

The type of handshake you give someone when you see them in class, or out on the quad, speaks volumes about the type of image you want to present to others. For example, should you go with a high-five when you’re saying hello? Or is that too casual? Or, do you want to go for the full-out hardcore handshake, in which you attempt to crush your opponent’s hand in a vise-like grip in order to project an image of power? Or is that too “square”? As you can see, when debating the various merits of the different handshakes and high-fives, picking one can be a very difficult and confusing decision in the best of circumstances. For this reason, I’ve decided to go through the many different methods we college kids have of saying hi by talking with our hands, and debate their various pros and cons. Let’s start off the discussion with the high-five. This classic staple of collegiate “cool” is a fairly low-risk endeavor, but it’s also low-reward. Not a lot of style points are given for pulling off the old up-top routine. Shaking things up with the occasional low-five helps to break the monotony a little. Also, you have to keep in mind that you want to hit your pal with a solid, accurate strike, otherwise you risk a glancing, half-hearted high-five which is just lame. Common complaints of poorly executed handshakes are remarks such as, “Oh, that sucked” or “Let’s try that again.” Both of these scenarios are extremely awkward, and can make it hard to look cool. Also, your intended target should be very aware that you are coming in for the high-five, because if he isn’t, there is a slight chance you could inadvertently end up smacking your friend with a five-star to the noodle, which makes for a really embarrassing situation. Just some food for thought. After the high-five there’s the other staple of American greetings, the handshake. This one seems pretty simple at first. Just a quick grab and squeeze of the hand. However, as with many things, the devil’s in the details, and you have to worry about scope problems when pulling this one off. You have to think about duration and intensity when shaking someone’s hand. If you give them a weak, limp handshake they might think you’re a ninny. Squeeze too hard, and you risk breaking bones. Just make sure your fingers don’t get too squirrely while pulling off said handshake, or people might get the wrong idea while you’re hanging out with your buddies. Fortunately for everyone, there are many other potential handshake options out there at your disposal if you’re so inclined. For example, you could go with the cousin of the high-five, the standard fist pound, or you could “blow it up” afterward. Another variation on the standard pound is the “lock and load,” in which you twist fists after the initial contact. Or perhaps the friendly and informative folks at Budweiser have it right as they showed the world during their Super Bowl commercial: perhaps the fist pound is out and the new handshake a la mode is the slap to the face. For the more adventurous of you out there, you could try the triple fist pound, in which you pound down, then up, then meet your friend’s fist head-on. This is a pretty good option. And if you really feel like showing off, you could even go for “The Fresh Prince,” as made famous by Will Smith on the show by the same name. For people who really like showboating, you could attempt the complicated choreography which New York Mets baseball players such as Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado have been known to pull off during games. Or you could go with the “bro hug,” in which you give your target a high-five, then kind of lean in with the shoulder until you’re in a halfway hug-type thing. This one can be kind of awkward at times but it’s a good choice if you find yourself in a No Man’s Land type social situation where you’re unsure whether to go for the handshake or the full-out hug. And then, of course, you have the full-out hug, usually reserved for members of the opposite sex or really good friends. Even grown men have been known to “hug it out,” as the character Ari taught us all on the HBO series “Entourage.”Regardless of what you decide to go with, it’s vitally important to make sure your intended target knows what’s happening. To this end, eye contact is a must when approaching your intended recipient. Perhaps even a finger point to single out your pal is a good idea. Suffering the pain of an unrequited handshake speaks volumes about your social stature and overall “coolness” level, and the pain of a denied or ignored handshake or high-five attempt can put quite a bruise on any person’s self-esteem. With enough practice and effort, even someone who’s all thumbs can pull off some collegiate “cool.”

Contact Tae Andrews at tandrew1@nd.eduThe views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.