The Femail Face-off: As a top US expert says it’s time to ditch our touchy-feely ways… Should we ban handshakes and hugs for good?
By Kate Spicer
Once we are on the other side of this pandemic, Dr Anthony Fauci, Donald Trump’s virus expert, says we should carry on compulsively washing our hands and refusing handshakes.
What? No shaking hands ever again, you say? The mere prospect has me rubbing my over-washed, chapped paws together in glee. Finally, I can revert to my preference of not touching anyone at all.
This country got by on very little physical contact for generations, but now the Continental air-kissing and Americanised hugs have got out of control … out of hand, in fact.
Kate Spicer (pictured) says she has never felt the need to have close contact to the people she cares about and worries about the exchange of germs
This is the issue with handshakes: it’s not the bacterial exchange that bothers me, but the fact it is a gateway to unwelcome further contact. If there is one sunny upland created by Covid-19, it is the potential end of this touchy-feely tide.
Please don’t get all psycho-therapeutic on me — I’m 50, and now’s not the time to ask me for a group hug. Even if you’ve been doused in bleach, I’m still going to cross my arms and say, ‘Hello, pleased to meet you’, while backing away.
Dr Fauci said less hand-shaking post-pandemic will lead to fewer bouts of flu and colds.
But I don’t cower from contact because I’m scared of germs.
I grew up in a family that believed in the healing power of dirt. Cuddles, not so much. Like many British people, I didn’t grow up smothered by physical affection.Less hand-shaking post-pandemic will lead to fewer bouts of flu and colds
I knew my parents loved me, and my siblings knew I loved them without me pawing at them. We showed our affection by taking the mickey out of each other.
If we hug, there’s a moment when one of us wonders when the other is going to break away. It’s more fun to play all-pile-on — yes, even in middle age!
A hug, like all-pile-on, has its place, and it’s not among strangers or colleagues. Unless I’ve had a surplus of wine, I’d include my friends, too.
When I was a young journalist, I went on a course, and a bloke from Classic Car magazine asked: ‘Should you kiss or shake hands when you go to interview someone?’ I gasped.
Thirty years later, I take it for granted that an embrace is coming, even with Hollywood stars (who probably bathe in sanitiser afterwards). I play along. It’s awkward — even more so if I stick my hand out for a shake and accidentally punch them in the stomach.
Shaking hands is bearable so long as it’s swift and at arm’s length. Spare me the dealmaker’s favourite of grasping my hand with both of yours, like a company director handing over a charity cheque in front of the local press. It’s all so performative.
I’d rather dance a jig if I’m pleased to see someone, or wave, or bow. My Indian friends touch their hearts and look you in the eye. Just keep your distance. Two metres is perfect.
By Helena Frith Powell
Like many of the things we do without thinking, shaking hands dates back several millennia to when a weapon-free hand, held out in greeting, was a symbol of peace.
There is a theory that the up-and-down motion was meant to dislodge any hidden daggers or knives.
Today, thanks to Covid-19, the handshake has in itself become a lethal weapon. We wear gloves when, and if, we venture out, and we keep our distance as if our lives depend on it. Maybe they do.
And now American doctor Anthony Fauci has suggested we ditch shaking hands for good, even when this misery is over.+2
Helena Frith Powell argues against banning contact after the lockdown. She says being close to others makes people happier
To that I say, not a chance!
I live in France and have noticed the toll social detachment has taken after only a few weeks.
This country relishes the performance of greeting people. If you walk into a room, you must embrace them individually.
You kiss everyone hello, from your cleaning lady to your colleagues at work. Every time you see them. Down in the south, you give three kisses. This can take hours out of your day. Human beings are sociable. We like to touch each other. We need contact
But far from being a nuisance, this constant physical contact is amazing. It feels extremely civilised, as well as welcoming.
You sense you are part of the community, even if you’re not. It makes you feel accepted.
Now, of course, you’re not allowed to touch anyone. The local baker has a plastic sheet hanging from the ceiling like a windscreen to protect her from clients.
This has a horribly alienating effect. The first time I saw it I felt as if I was somehow tainted.
As a result, I have seen people around me become progressively more stressed, unfriendly, insular and downright miserable.
Human beings are sociable. We like to touch each other. We need contact. A consoling hand on your shoulder can mean so much more than words.
Hugging someone not only shows affection, but also triggers the release of feel-good hormones in our body. If we stop touching each other, we lose a part of ourselves.
As such, Dr Fauci’s advice that we should never shake hands again is ridiculous. What does he suggest we do instead?
Maybe we should adopt the Middle Eastern approach of rejecting the handshake of someone you view as ‘unclean’.
This upset me when I lived there. Some Arabs feel it’s forbidden to touch a non-Muslim, so I would be left hanging when I held out my hand in greeting. It felt shaming.
And isn’t that the message refusing to shake hands or even touch someone sends? That you don’t trust the other person? That you reject them? Or, even worse, that you actively dislike them?
We cannot have that. For all our sakes, let’s not lose touch.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. Helena is also working on a thriller called Thin Ice that will be published in spring 2021 as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and in paperback in April 2018.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019