Well, with a term pandemic in full-swing and us owning a bed-and-breakfast that hosts foreigners from a vast array of foreign nations, I’ve used it as an opportunity to test the staunchly cultural social graces that often are taken for granted…and how to get-around and manipulate them. Handshakes, hugging, kissing, and physical-contact of any kind being non-recommended. As the fist-bump, forearm-press, and others have already been omnipresent in the media (and, t o me, can create awkwardness with those you don’t know or aren’t familiar with, I find) , I’m going to present s o me different options I’ve been experimenting with with success, some quite socially-acceptable, so me not as much, others maybe not at all, but, hey, my and my family’s health is more important to me at that point than formalities.

  • Making less and shorter eye-contact. Feigning a missed-handshake or hug can prevent an outright perceived slight. No-touch.
  • Angling the body. As direct squaring-off and eye-contact (especially between men) generally insinuates a firm-handshake is coming, angling the body away c o upled with the above break in eye-contact can cause hesitation and the mental perception that the opportunity to establish dominance or neutrality has passed o r was missed entirely. I’ve often been coupling these 2 with a smile and immediate turn-away to bring them to the registration area. When followed by small-talk, questions on their flight or time in the country usually quashes formalities and takes things to the next phase smoothly and subtly. No-touch.
  • Distance-control. In social situations I use what I call “active hands”, especially when a multitude or group of people are present. That way I have a buffer in-between myself and any one I’m not comfortable with or don’t know. I control space and distance. No-or-minimal-touch.
  • Immediately angling and going for the shoulder or elbow combined with a welcoming smile. Warm, welcoming and it entirely overruns the handshake entirely. Can be an invisible touch or light-touch but better to touch clothing than skin.
  • If there’s an advance with movement from distance, I’ve combined #4 with, upon physical-touching range, turning and walking with them in the direction they were heading. Works well in more open-spaces like the street, park, or mall. If they’re leading and stop, continuing conversation usually renders a handshake, hug, or kiss awkward or awkwardly-late. Light-or-no-touch.
  • When I don’t catch the handshake or hug on-time, I apologize warmly and feign having a slight cold or allergy and tell them I don’t want to have them start their holiday off sick. Especially with current events, I get zero argument or offense. Light-or-no-touch.
  • OR, there’s simply being direct. “In this time of insecurity heath-wise, it’s probably safer for both of us if we don’t shake hands/hug/kiss, I hope you understand…
  • Hey, even utilizing temporary body odor, sweat, or halitosis can keep people at-bay, if worse would comes to worse. Remember, we know little of this strain as of yet so it pays to be extremely cautious and some people simply don’t get it.

Another thing I’ve personally been doing when out in public (of a different safety variety) is making sure I have my sunglasses on as much as I can. The first known case here was apparently an American from New York who knowingly interacted with a known infected acquaintance but didn’t let it prevent him from travelling here, I’ve noticed some online resentment towards gringo, of which I’m generally lumped in with as a Canuck. While it’s pretty hard to “go grey” here, I can limit the exposure to my blue eyes, which give it away upon sight.

With men it’s often more difficult to avoid as the dominance game is instinctive in most men, especially those from Western countries. Even apart from that, I admit the handshake is almost reflexive to me and I’ve both erred and had to consciously strain to keep aware as it’s a politeness we’ve had ingrained since childhood, at least in my household. More than once my wife has reprimanded me for not only shaking hands but not even being coherent I’ve done so .

In closing, as I had to explain to one particularly casual guest, while it’s not an epidemic or total chaos at this point, and calm and rationality should be implemented instead of panicked frenzy, there are still some things we simply don’t know at this point. Whether it returns stronger a 2nd or 3rd time around, why it affects certain segments of the population and not others, and how it got to be so much more contagious than other strains. Plus, history is littered with epidemics that started off as familiar and seemingly known before wiping large segments of populations. So, while calm should take precedence and it may all turn out just fine, there’s a reason that grand-scale precautions are being taken.

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