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Handshake etiquette especially with women
July 14, 2007 1:44 PM   Subscribe

Over the course of my personal life I have noticed a trend of not shaking women's hands when first meeting them in social settings. What is the proper way to greet women in a first meeting in a public setting?

For example if I meet a woman that is the wife or girlfriend of a friend. I will wave instead of exchanging a hand shake. This is counter to my experience with family and new women I have met in Latin America where a handshake and placing each other's faces cheek to cheek is the norm. Every time this happens I internalize it and while no one mentions that it is strange it is prevalent.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (35 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I assume you're in the US?

I find there's a weirdness here with meeting new people. There's not really one socially accepted, standard ritual for greeting new people -- handshakes are probably the closest, but they can feel weirdly formal in social situations; hugs or kissing the cheek may be usual among friends, but can feel weird with someone you just met -- and so everyone kind of awkwardly stands around and half-heartedly waves or smiles and it feels weird and stilted.

In other words, you're doing just fine. :-)

I have read that a man should always wait for a woman to extend her hand first, so that she gets to choose whether she wants to have any bodily contact with you or not. While I think this probably doesn't hold in business settings, it doesn't seem like bad advice for social settings.
posted by occhiblu at 1:53 PM on July 14, 2007


As a woman, I find a handshake a bit too manly. And the super-limp you're-a-woman-don't-wanna-hurt-you-little-lady handshake is twice as bad. A friendly nod works just fine for me.
posted by CwgrlUp at 1:54 PM on July 14, 2007


Shaking hands is fine in my book. Sometimes I'll do the wave thing if it would be a project to get within handshaking distance (ie, there are crowds or lots of tightly packed tables), but if it is feasible to shake hands, I will offer a hand.

However, I don't much enjoy getting cheek-to-cheek with a new acquaintance. At least not when in the US, where my optimum personal space has a radius of several feet.
posted by janell at 1:54 PM on July 14, 2007


I read something about this just the other day in an article for Brazilians coming to North America. (Sorry I can't remember the source) The guideline they gave was to let the woman initiate the handshake. If she offers her hand, shake it. If not, smile and acknowledge her some other way. (on preview, yeah, what occhiblu said)

It does feel weird to not even touch if you're used to cheek to cheek or even kiss-kiss greetings. I have a hard time when I go back to North America remembering that not everyone is comfortable with a big hug and kisses.
posted by wallaby at 1:55 PM on July 14, 2007


It's not clear to me if you're using "Latin America" as a contrast or as a context, so I'll just go ahead and assume you're from around those parts and baffled by the American custom of not offering hands to women.

Attitudes about this vary widely in my experience, but I and many others I know were taught from a young age not to offer a handshake to a woman and only to accept them when offered. Along those lines I was instructed to greet women with words and not gestures. It sounds to me like you've got a great many such people in your social circle.
posted by majick at 1:58 PM on July 14, 2007


I have read that a man should always wait for a woman to extend her hand first, so that she gets to choose whether she wants to have any bodily contact with you or not.

That is what I was taught as a boy -- by a very strict grandmother. I was taught that your hand should take hers gently and not extend beyond the woman's middle knuckles. Also -- if a woman extends her hand in such a way as to expect a kiss, you bow, gently raise her hand and give a kiss, lips gently touching the back of her hand, and only when outdoors; lips never making contact, if indoors.
posted by ericb at 2:01 PM on July 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


God, I hate limp handshakes. Women are people too.
posted by bluebird at 2:11 PM on July 14, 2007 [4 favorites]


I (man) always shake hands but I'm getting sick of women giving limp handshakes. I suppose it goes both ways. The only times I don't shake hands is when my hands are full, and no woman has ever been bothered that I offered my hand first.
posted by monkeymadness at 2:16 PM on July 14, 2007


As a woman, I initiate handshakes in a work/formal setting if necessary because
1. I don't want to do any face-nearly-touching contact with people I don't know and
2. Otherwise I hate standing around without a formal gesture of greeting. Waving isn't it.

Part of it depends on the culture broadly (US) but part of it depends on the specific [office] culture that exists there.

Yes, you're supposed to wait for the woman, but you're not alone in finding it annoying in certain contexts when they don't.
posted by cobaltnine at 2:18 PM on July 14, 2007


ericb - love your grandmother (is she Southern like me?) - however either a "knuckle" shake or a hand kiss on first meeting would feel strange to me. I like it when a man gives me a "confident" handshake on first meeting. It always leaves an impression.
posted by oh posey at 2:21 PM on July 14, 2007


ericb - love your grandmother (is she Southern like me?)

No, she was a "proper" New England Yankee. God rest her soul. As strict as she was, she was a lovely person -- and the glue that held a family together.
posted by ericb at 2:27 PM on July 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


I (a woman) almost always shake hands when meeting people, no matter what their gender. A confident handshake and a friendly smile are always appropriate, no matter what the social setting...

Echoing what some others have said: I hate it when men give me a "gentle" handshake just because I'm a woman. It feels creepy.
posted by amyms at 2:30 PM on July 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm a woman and I shake hands like a dude - firm, full grip, one pump. I hate limp fishes, of any gender.
posted by tristeza at 2:37 PM on July 14, 2007 [4 favorites]


I am a woman and have never been offended by anyone offering to shake my hand. I like that it is a formal gesture which will see you through the awkward "Nice to meet you stage" - ok, I've greeted that person, now I can a) initiate conversation; b) move on, etc. I seriously dislike limp handshakes. Other women are guilty of these much more often than men, and it gives me a little bit of a bullying, superior feeling towards them.

What is the proper way to greet women in a first meeting in a public setting?

"Hi, it's nice to meet you." Offer hand; or take hand if offered. There may possibly be some women who would dislike shaking your hand, but I think that it's a common enough social ritual that it's rather unreasonable of them to feel that way. As long as she isn't standing in a way which definitely says "No physical contact" (such as arms tightly folded) a handshake should be fine.
posted by frobozz at 2:51 PM on July 14, 2007


Second tristeza. Limp fishes make a very poor first impression to me.
posted by kamikazegopher at 3:37 PM on July 14, 2007


I'm going to third that—I really dislike the limp grasp of the second and third knuckles that passes for a handshake among unenthusiastic new female acquaintances.
posted by limeonaire at 4:28 PM on July 14, 2007


That is what I was taught as a boy -- by a very strict grandmother. I was taught that your hand should take hers gently and not extend beyond the woman's middle knuckles. Also -- if a woman extends her hand in such a way as to expect a kiss, you bow, gently raise her hand and give a kiss, lips gently touching the back of her hand, and only when outdoors; lips never making contact, if indoors.

And here I was about to leave for the cotillion without knowing this! ;)
posted by mkultra at 4:45 PM on July 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wait for the woman to extend her hand, as not all women were raised to shake hands. However, I'll admit to being privately (and only slightly) annoyed at women who don't shake hands, especially in a business setting where everyone else is shaking hands - it always introduces a weird little beat in the introduction, and it's not like I have anything gross on my hand. But hey, whatever. In recent years, it's become far, far more common for women to shake hands, and I say good on that.

And don't even get me started on the limp fish thing. Bleh. It feels like that unsavory Victorian custom of only offering a few fingers when shaking the hands of lower-class individuals. Or like she's afraid her hands will shatter like porcelain.

Nonetheless, everyone has a right to be touched as they please, so just wait for the lady to extend her hand.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:54 PM on July 14, 2007


It does feel weird to not even touch if you're used to cheek to cheek or even kiss-kiss greetings. I have a hard time when I go back to North America remembering that not everyone is comfortable with a big hug and kisses.

I grew up this way too. My instinct with women is to lean forward (she does too) and hug, exchanging cheeks. I have to consciously suppress this instinct when dealing with women in the US. I always awkwardly don't know what to do either, so I'm glad this question was asked.

(From a hygienic standpoint, I prefer lightly grabbing a woman's shoulder than exchanging hand sweat with her...)
posted by vacapinta at 5:03 PM on July 14, 2007


(From a hygienic standpoint, I prefer lightly grabbing a woman's shoulder than exchanging hand sweat with her...)

This is true. As much as I prefer women shaking hands, it is, as a matter of fact, a rather filthy ritual as far as passing along germs goes.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:05 PM on July 14, 2007


As an aside to all this, after spending two weeks in Japan some time ago bowing to everybody I met, I was ready to do that for the rest of my life. It makes a lot more sense than all this handshaking, waving, firm versus limp stuff. Just bend at the waist, all the way down. A couple of times if you want to show a lot of respect. More hygienic, too. Not likely to replace handshakes, however.
posted by beagle at 5:11 PM on July 14, 2007


Plain old "men's" handshake unless the woman is being really ... mousy. (deliberately no eye contact, etc.) then usually a nod. Which is ironic because she's not looking at me and won't see it, but I've found if a woman won't make eye contact then she won't want to have physical contact.


beagle: If you only spent 2 weeks in Japan you were undoubtedly bowing... wrong. It takes a lot of time to do it right in the proper amount in the proper situation. And if you don't look Japanese, most Japanese people are going to try to shake hands with you anyway. You'll get the limp fish, but it's a better approximation than amateur bowing.

posted by Ookseer at 5:48 PM on July 14, 2007


Oh dear. I always return a handshake when offered, but I am really really uncomfortable with physical contact - after age 6 in my family, nobody touched anybody else unless it was sexual.

My career has also been such that nobody much thought of offering their hand (that's admin over there) so I am sadly out of practice. I try to return a firm handshake, but how can I tell if it's firm?

If you meet me, a nod and a smile will do fine. If you shake hands with me, please don't think a poor handshake on my part is indicative of my character.
posted by b33j at 5:58 PM on July 14, 2007


Woman here! I prefer a handshake, too, but if you're meeting someone's girlfriend, mother, or what-have-you, it can seem a little stiff and formal. So extend your hand, and if (when?) she accepts the 'shake, just place your other hand over the whole handshake for a moment or so. It's a very warm gesture.
posted by houseofdanie at 6:08 PM on July 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


It seems rather arbitrary and random to me. Most of my handshakes are reactionary so at times I deliver strong handshakes but most often I will mimic what I am given. Those being limp handshakes. Or sometimes receive the dainty knuckle shake.
posted by andendau at 6:45 PM on July 14, 2007


As a woman, I get annoyed when a group of men ignore my extended hand for a handshake, choosing instead to look perturbed or outright ignoring it. I can't help but feel in those situations (usually work related, or when being introduced to a group of men with Mr Brown) that somehow, as a woman, I matter less. It's made particularly bad when they've just given Mr Brown a firm handshake, and then just smile politely as me, maybe give the obligatory wave. We're living in modern times, people! Women are no longer mere attachments to men, nore are we faint of heart, innocent lil' lasses who will get dizzy at some *gasp* male contact!

/rant over
posted by miz brown at 7:20 PM on July 14, 2007


Au contraire, Ookseer, no Japanese person I met tried to shake hands with me. And sure, I may have been doing the bowing wrong, but the point is, as method of greeting and showing respect, I like it a lot.
posted by beagle at 7:31 PM on July 14, 2007


I love shaking hands, but it always bugs me when the other person isn't into it.

Limp handshakes are the worst and actually communicate a lot about a someone's personality (or at least their feelings for meeting someone, or their immediate disposition towards me.)

With men I try to give a hearty handshake, something with a pump or two. With women I tend to take it down a notch or two due to differences in hand size and probably some sort of sexists mentality that I haven't yet cast off. But I always offer my hand to both men and women equally.

I find it really encouraging when I receive a good firm handshake.
posted by wfrgms at 8:35 PM on July 14, 2007


You wave at them? In personal introductions?

Just make eye contact, smile, and say "so nice to meet you" or something similar. That's all.
posted by longsleeves at 12:07 AM on July 15, 2007


I'm a woman. If I am offered a limp handshake I crush it.
posted by casarkos at 6:57 AM on July 15, 2007


I am a woman, and I enjoy a good, firm handshake a great deal! I'll often compliment a good handshake, which is a decent ice-breaker.

What I find awkward is greetings in a group situation in which some people have a closer relationship than others, and the good friends start hugging and kissing each other hello/goodbye and the acquaintances get dragged along into it, and you have to hug and kiss people you'd prefer to only verbally greet or employ some lesser physical contact. There's often no escaping the awkwardness, whether you go along with the hugging/kissing or offer a hand or wave instead.
posted by palegirl at 8:34 AM on July 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


I (woman) am pretty aggressive about offering my hand to shake, specifically for the reasons miz brown notes above. Men will frequently shake my husband's hand and make no effort to shake mine. I'm usually somewhat irritated/offended by this; it had never occurred to me that they might have been "trained" to wait for me to offer my hand.

I've never had a man refuse my hand, and they usually seem pleased/surprised/nonplussed that I have good handshake.

I dislike "air kisses" and any sort of closer physical contact from anyone, male or female, with whom I don't have a close relationship. But I understand that it is the norm for some people and try not to freak out too much.
posted by MsElaineous at 11:26 AM on July 15, 2007


I (woman) find handshakes fairly enlightening - in a business setting I expect a firm hand shake accompanied by good eye contact...I make sure my handshakes are both firm and I seek good eye contact - in particular if I am dealing with a limp shaker!

On a purely social setting I find introductions are a lot more complicated - this seems to range from smiling and nodding to shaking hands or hugging them...and yes, I too, have waved at people especially in group introduction settings where one new person gets introduced to a whole group... it all depends on the situation!
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:54 PM on July 15, 2007


In the USA and on business situations I shake hands. On meeting new people socially, nod my head and shake hands if they take the initiative to do so. Meeting friends of friends and seeing that they kiss each other, I just go with the flow and kiss away but try not to get too near since most people seem to avoid body contact. If I kiss someone who didn't want to be kissed, that person will most certainly promptly give me their hand to shake next time we meet. So, no big deal.

Never wave. It's silly. Anywhere.

Handshakes should be brief and firm, applying just the right amount of strength so that they go by as if unnoticed. The handshakes and eye contact gimmicks you learn at executive training to show self-confidence and build trust are usually embarrassing because most look fake. And if someone can tell that you had to learn something as simple as that, that's a lost deal.

I come from a latin country and the coldness of the anglo-saxon greetings freaks me out. I have kissed CEO's on both cheeks at business meetings in my country. And politicians. Everyone kisses. Well, not between men. Ok, on some more formal business occasions we shake hands but that's not a rule. And hugs are real hugs and not just pressing face to face while stroking the shoulder blade...

*Sigh* That's one of the few things that makes me home sick. Non sexual human touch.

On a second thought, maybe the lack of human touch enhances the sensual experience. Just like the victorians would get all excited at the sight of a woman's knee.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 3:23 PM on July 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'm female. I was brought up to introduce myself by shaking hands. I like doing it.

Plus, from George McDonald's The Princess and Curdie:

'Now here is what the rose-fire has done for you: it has made your hands so knowing and wise, it has brought your real hands so near the outside of your flesh gloves, that you will henceforth be able to know at once the hand of a man who is growing into a beast; nay, more - you will at once feel the foot of the beast he is growing, just as if there were no glove made like a man's hand between you and it.

'Hence of course it follows that you will be able often, and with further education in zoology, will be able always to tell, not only when a man is growing a beast, but what beast he is growing to, for you will know the foot - what it is and what beast's it is. According, then, to your knowledge of that beast will be your knowledge of the man you have to do with.
posted by tangerine at 9:23 PM on July 16, 2007


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