Greeting — the COVID-19 way

HUMANS, by nature, are gregarious beings. And, greetings have always been part and parcel of human interaction — be it a salute, a handshake, a kiss, or a hug.

Some may be frowned upon for not following greeting protocol, such as offering a good morning or a customary hail. Among friends and religious adherents, a kiss, an embrace, or a touch generally follow words of endearment.

Then comes the year 2020 and COVID-19 has radically revised the script on greeting, making the norm abnormal and the abnormal, the new apparent norm. Like never before, greetings are inextricably linked to health and wellness.


Hugging and kissing may be unloving

With the paranoia created by the new coronavirus, which has seen deaths snowball to more than 60,000 in little over three months across 181 countries, people are very sceptical about who they hug, kiss or touch. What was once gentle, warm or affectionate may no longer be described as such.

Now, a touch, a kiss or a hug may kill or render you and others gravely ill. The once-loving gestures have, overnight, turned unloving. This 180-degree turn is, admittedly, a very hard pill to swallow for some. However, if we value life, not only do we refrain from such public expressions of conviviality, but we also keep a distance of at least two metres from another person — friend or no friend — as we observe protocol for COVID-19.

What novel greeting styles, though, have COVID-19 handed us?


The Wuhan shake

The handshake for which the Western world owes the ancient Greeks thanks — used in formal and informal settings — now gives way to a novel form of greeting that has emerged out of China in which two people meet, they extend legs and tap the insides of each other’s shoe.

This handless shake, affectionately called the “Wuhan shake”, plays on the name of one of China’s most populous cities that has been at the centre of the new coronavirus. Healthy as it is easy, the Wuhan shake has gained much traction on the streets and in religious spheres locally, sparking good-natured humour and creativity.

Another new greeting — touching elbows — is preferred to handshakes and hugs.


Better to greet from six feet

Still, some prefer the no-touch greeting of pure words. This is better.

A salute, as in the hand to the head, military style, is not encouraged, since the aim is not just to avoid unsafely touching others but to keep hands as far away as possible from the face.

A thumbs up is always in season, so too is a wave. And remember to wink an eye, and gently blow a kiss instead of giving one, as we greet from a distance of six feet. Yes, the better greeting is always social distancing.


Best to stay off the street and greet

Since a greeting is really intended to invite health upon a person, what better way to do so than by practising social distancing? So stay home when you want to greet, and protect your health and others. And, in this environment, social media is king.


Contact without physical contact

If we must socialise, use social media. This medium, faulted for robbing us of person-to-person contact, is COVID-19-free, thereby becoming a more preferred mode of greeting and staying in touch among individuals who are buying into staying at home.

Zoom, Skype, Blizz, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram are just a sampling of the splendour of options. The truth is, since the virus can latch itself on to clothes and shoes, social media may be our best, most inexpensive bet to contact without physical contact.

As the virus spreads, tightening COVID-19 measures may see hugging friends and other such physical expressions slow in returning as the public norm.

COVID-19 has forced us to greet differently and rightly so, for how we greet may save us our health and our lives.


Warrick Lattibeaudiere (PhD), a minister of religion for the past 22 years, lectures full-time in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Technology, Jamaica.

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