Healthy Handshakes: Are germs ruining proper greetings?

by epi on June 28, 2012

Q: With people so much more aware of germs these days, are handshakes becoming less welcome in corporate America?

A: No.  Handshakes are still an expected part of greetings.  Imagine leaving the person you’re greeting with his hand extended in mid-air as you refuse to shake it.  That’s a bad first step, and recovering from a mistake is much harder than avoiding it in the first place.  One situation where declining to shake hands would be appropriate is if you had the flu or a bad cold.  In this case you could say, “Mr. Smith, I’m very glad to meet you.  Please excuse me for not shaking hands, but I have a bad cold and I don’t want to give it to you.”  If you’re worried that someone you’re greeting is contagious, don’t refuse to shake.  Excuse yourself to the restroom as soon as you politely can to wash your hands.  You can help avoid catching or spreading colds or flu by washing your hands frequently and being careful not to touch your face.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder June 28, 2012 at 9:13 pm

Dearest Emily,

Sure, washing hands frequently is a very good hygiene custom but we cannot ward off all infections by doing so. Handshakes are not the worst in my opinion. The whole society is turning away from the ‘trend’ where quite a large percentage of young people wear their pants way too long. Some teenage girls seem to be too sorry for being able to hem up a pant and others wear them like they’re mopping the streets, the sidewalks and the restroom floors… Millions of bacteria are being spread around daily and don’t thing that those same persons launder their pants on a daily basis.
No, the biological rule that everything is everywhere is still valid. Only the environment selects.
You are correct at pointing out how to excuse yourself in case of a bad cold or having had the flu. Also discretely going to a restroom as soon as possible will help.
Again, on our dollar bills there are probably more germs than one could collect from a certain handshake and yet nobody washes it or refuses them.
Always nice to read you and it is thought provoking.
Have a great day,



craig July 4, 2012 at 10:06 am

Dear Emily,

I am a ‘germaphobe.’ I contracted viral meningitis once, so I have my own personal biases.
Often, I go to a restaurant, greet my friends by shaking hands, and then go to the restroom to wash hands before sitting down for dinner.

Then, someone whom I have not previously greeted says “hi” to me. I really don’t want to go back to the restroom and wash my hands again. Is a ‘fistbump’ an acceptable alternative to shaking hands in this instance or even in general ?

Besides claiming personal contagiousness, how do I politely excuse myself from shaking hands?

Many thanks,


Vanna Keiler July 4, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Hi Craig. I would like to suggest you keep a small handy bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket for these occasions and discreetly use it before the first course arrives, under the table. Hand sanitizers come in all varieties nowadays, from the heavy-duty, industrial kind found around health facilities reception areas, to smaller-sized “pocket” versions which are more fragrant and milder disinfecting agents, manufactured by numerous retailers out there. You can find them in some cosmetic retailers, soap stores or most department stores carry their own lines sometimes. Most people do not think twice in seeing this practice performed in public, so long as it is not flamboyantly performed or done immediately following a handshake. This should put you at ease the next time you have to greet a newcomer at a dining experience.


Linda October 9, 2012 at 11:33 am

My question has to do with if a handshake or a hug is appropriate for leaving a business dinner between 2 married men and 2 single women- Also, one of the women has a 2yr business aquantince with the men, and the other woman is meeting the men for the first time


Winifred Rosenburg October 9, 2012 at 1:12 pm

A handshake is better for a business setting regardless of gender or marital status.


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