The other day at a social gathering I was attending, I spotted an old acquaintance I hadn’t seen in quite some time. I cheerfully approached him with my open palm quite expecting him to return his open hand with a handshake as a simple gesture of goodwill and friendship.

But instead of extending his right hand in fellowship, he came forth with his fist tightly closed offering a so-called “fist bump” in return. It was definitely an awkward moment to say the least. In fact, it reminded me of the time I attempted to place my left shoe on my right foot. Graceless indeed!

Growing up in England, my mother and her four adult brothers did their best to teach me some lifetime manners I needed to know before I became a man. Among those life lessons were to never forget saying please and thank you; always asking to be excused from the dinner table; and when walking with a lady, keep to the left side thus protecting her from an on-coming car or carriage.

Along with those servings of etiquette, they insisted I should always be the first one to offer my hand in friendship — the only exception being when greeting a female, as a gentleman I should wait until she extends her hand first. To this day, I am still reluctant to extend my hand to a lady until she commits hers.

Right or wrong, those were the proper British manners that have remained burned into the soul of my mind for as long as I can remember.

That brings me back to that clumsy “fist bump” I recently experienced. Now before you throw down your newspaper and contact the Centers for Disease Control and report me as a bacterial terrorist, let me say that when I shake someone’s hand I’m under the assumption they haven’t been exposed to the Ebola virus or spreading plutonium on their vegetable garden. I’m simply talking about good manners.

It was the gifted Helen Keller who once wrote: “The hands of those I meet are eloquent to me... I have met people whose hands have sunbeams in them.”

Yes, how eloquently telling a sincere handshake can be. It can express welcome, encouragement, sympathy, agreement and so much more. Those who have studied the history of our human culture believe that the origin of the handshake dates to the 5th century in Greece where holding out of the open hand indicated it held no weapon and one came in peace. Certainly, a friendly handshake often expresses more than words themselves.

Later this fall I will be attending the very formal wedding for the daughter of an old friend. I’m honestly hoping that at the close of the nuptials, the preacher doesn’t turn to the groom and proclaim: “You may now fist bump your wife.”

Mike Fitsko is a retired principal and longtime columnist from New Braunfels.

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