Rubbing hands together
June 1, 2008 10:51 PM   Subscribe

Rubbing your hands together as an indication of anticipation. Is this gesture common to all cultures?
posted by tellurian to Society & Culture (11 answers total)
Best answer: Extremely unlikely -- the only gestures that apply universally are those deeply rooted in our neurology and physiology, like smiling or frowning. This isn't one of them.
posted by jjg at 11:06 PM on June 1, 2008

Evidence against the proposition: rubbing hands together used to be a sign of deference up until the early twentieth century, especially as used by shopkeepers and waiters.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 11:12 PM on June 1, 2008

Here in the UK it's more related to greed: hands are rubbed together when one is getting money.
posted by humblepigeon at 11:39 PM on June 1, 2008

It is in Japan. Or at least it used to be. The gesture reminds me of Japanese period films and dramas, where it's often used by greedy merchant characters and such ("Shime shime" is the expression that often accompanies the gesture), so it's got a kind of coarse, slightly negative nuance to it I'd say. I don't think I've ever actually performed the gesture myself except jokingly as an exaggeration of such "greedy anticipation," and can't recall if I've ever actually seen anyone using it in real life, and don't know if the younger kids even know about it nowadays. (Me: Japanese female, late 30s, FYI)

There's a word close to the "sign of deference" meaning in Japanese, "momide" (揉み手), meaning a gesture used when one is hoping for a favor, or trying to apologize, or when trying to make an excuse.
posted by misozaki at 11:39 PM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: rubbing hands together used to be a sign of deference
Wouldn't that be the wringing of hands, not rubbing the palms against each other?
posted by tellurian at 11:40 PM on June 1, 2008

Yes, tellurian---I thought that's what you meant. FWIW I'd also understand hand-wringing as anticipation in the right context, such as at the dinner table.
Rubbing flat palms together: I read somewhere once about prisoners in a jail in a central African country (which one exactly escapes my memory) who, when dancing during exercise periods, used to rub their palms together as noisily as they could as a substitute for applause, which for some reason was forbidden.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 11:47 PM on June 1, 2008

I thought "hand-wringing" means you feel distressed about something?
posted by misozaki at 11:49 PM on June 1, 2008

hands are rubbed together when one is getting money.

Yes, almost like in anticipation of receiving the money.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 12:38 AM on June 2, 2008

Working in a very drafty tech store, come winter I would be hugging myself and rubbing my hands together. A co-worker kept reminding me not to do that in front of customers, since the handrubbing apparently made me look like an un-trustworthy commission-earning desperado.

I'm sure there's a whole universe of meaning if you move incrementally from hand rubbing to a more wringing motion. Mr Burns does that occasionally, when he's not doing the finger-tip dance.

"Wringing hands" and "rubbing hands" on Google image search was a let-down; I thought you'd get a whole taxonomy of emotions, but no.
posted by monocultured at 3:29 AM on June 2, 2008

Best answer: Convoluted with keeping your hands warm, I've found this discussion. Looks like it's not universal. The Alexander the Great angle is interesting.
posted by tellurian at 5:53 AM on June 2, 2008

I wonder if it might be very old and related to hand cleaning. Rubbing your palms together is a good way of getting grime off in the absence of anything else. You might do so in preparation for something good...eating maybe, sex even...
posted by fingerbang at 7:35 PM on May 30, 2009

« Older Help me help others   |   What to do with spare download bandwidth? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.