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CARROLL: Hugs, handshakes, elbows and fist bumps
David Carroll
David Carroll is a news anchor for WRCB in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Someone outside of my family hugged me last week. It was like a sneak attack, I didn’t see it coming. 

A lovely lady in my workplace, who works an opposite shift from me, caught me by surprise. We had not seen each other in a year or so because we had both been working limited hours, often from home. 

So when I saw her, I walked over to her desk for an in-person greeting, and she sprung to her feet and embraced me. It almost took my breath away, for two reasons. One, she’s a serious hugger. She hugs like she means it. And two, of course, is the fear factor. During the past year, my brain has been programmed to avoid human contact, pausing the practice of a lifetime of hugs and handshakes. At what point do I revert to normal? Is that for me to decide? 

Just a few weeks into the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that we should end handshakes forever. He stated that our long-cherished hand-to-hand greeting was the world’s No. 1 germ spreader. When he said that, many of us had no idea what we were getting into. I read his statement, rolled my eyes, and said, “Yeah, right.” The handshake would never go away, not if I had any say so.

Well, maybe he has a point. It takes two to tango, and we now know that hand to hand contact is a bit dicey. 

I’ve shaken a few thousand hands in my day, from the bone crushers to the dead fish. I’ve exchanged high fives, low fives, and responded to requests to “Gimme some skin!”

Thankfully, I have avoided any major illnesses that could be attributed to handshakes and hugs. I imagine most folks could say the same.

But like everything else we see, say, and do, the world has changed. Who wants me to shake their hand, or go in for a hug? And how will I know who’s open for business? It’s too awkward to wear a sign around your neck, right?

Even so, if I’m open for a handshake, and you’re willing to join in, how do I know you’ve sanitized within the past few minutes? How can you be sure about me? Must we be like dogs, and sniff each other (I’m talking about hands, folks) before we formalize our greeting?

Some “experts” are already promoting alternatives to handshakes. (I put that word in quotation marks because I’ve always believed an expert is someone from out of town, which makes us think they are superior in some way. This is why I often make speeches outside my hometown, because people who don’t know me think I’m smart.)

Anyway, these out-of-town know-it-alls have convinced most of the free world to bump fists or connect elbows in lieu of the feared handshake. Certainly, a case can be made that these are relatively germ-free alternatives, but I wouldn’t necessarily call them safe, and they’re definitely not graceful. 

I have gone in for the fist bump, while my friend has offered an elbow. He or she quickly switches to the fist, at the same time I have countered with an elbow. This is followed by quizzical looks and awkward silence. Not exactly the ideal greeting.

I have also encountered those who think the fist bump should be offered with the same power as a Mike Tyson knockout punch. Same with the elbow greeting, which should be more of a graze, and not a collision. A shot to the funny bone is no laughing matter. Plus, now that we’ve been trained to sneeze into the fold of our arm, I’ll bet a few of those sneezy germs have taken up residence at the Elbow Inn.

As for hugs, it becomes even more complicated. There’s the full-bodied, affectionate hug. For a more casual acquaintance, there’s the neck-hug. For someone you don’t know that well, there’s the side-hug. Our “guy” friends get the bro-hug. The most embarrassing hug is the head-knock. Neither side is sure what to do, so in the midst of all the clumsiness, while trying to decide between the full-body, the neck-hug, or the side-hug, your head crashes into the other person’s noggin, creating a massive headache for both parties. Those are the hugs I do not miss.

Now, some are suggesting a nod, a salute, a “head dip,” a bow, or even a little dance. Who knew a simple greeting could be so complicated?

The next few weeks will tell the tale. I am now fully vaccinated, and yearn to be social again. I have a new book coming out, and will soon be speaking to clubs and churches. Fair warning: unless you’re wearing a “CLOSED” sign, I may be coming in for a hug.

David Carroll is a Chattanooga TV news anchor and radio host.