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scot lehigh

Quaking about shaking

istock photo/h. hopp-bruce/globe staff

Flu season is a dreadful time of year, and yet, it does have a silver lining.

At least for those of us who are . . .

Who are . . .

Hmmm. How to put this? I don’t like the term germaphobes. It carries a certain insinuation of irrationality, of people who use their elbows to open doors and press elevator buttons.

We don’t do that. Not as long as there’s some hand sanitizer nearby to disinfect one’s fingertips, anyway.

Others hint darkly that those willing to implement sensible precautions to avoid getting sick are suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Talk about taking the germs’ side of things.

Let’s call our group of health-conscious citizens POSH: People Opposed to Shaking Hands.


Which brings me to the silver lining: This is the only time of year when it’s socially acceptable to refuse a handshake. Confronted with a presumptuously proffered paw, one need only invoke this magical phase: “The health experts say you really shouldn’t shake hands in flu season.”

If only those experts would make that a year-round recommendation. I mean, what, really, is the point? I’d understand it if humans were like those old cast-iron water pumps, and you had to lift and lower their arms a few times to bring forth a flow of conversation. But most folks I encounter are so impulsively chatty they feel no compunction whatsoever about sallying right into subjects that are none of their business. Like, say, why you don’t want to shake hands.

I know, I know, some people see it as a mark of friendship. But here at POSH, we see an outstretched hand for what it is: An amphibious landing craft crammed with an infantry of infectious microbes.

“OK, boys, we’re about to make contact. Move fast, travel light, and dig in as soon as you can. Cold, Cough, and Fever, take the lead.”

And don’t even get me started on the cheek-kissing that otherwise rational people consider an acceptable practice.


“Yikes. Please remove your saliva-soaked germ portal to a safe distance,” a POSH member wants to say.

Sadly, in this upside-down world of ours, that would be considered rude, while breathing directly onto someone’s cheek — even pressing your lips against it — is thought of as polite.

This is a particular problem with female friends of one’s wife. POSH bachelors beware: Her gang may be pleasantly standoffish now, but once you’re married, they’ll come to think that because their close friend now has the legal right to kiss you, they do too.

This, as I learned some years back, can lead to awkward moments. Taken by surprise when one of my wife’s friends moved in to inflict a goodbye kiss, I instinctively raised my arm to fend her off. This had the effect of bringing my palm into close contact with a part of her upper torso that, judging from her surprised look, didn’t usually play a role in good-bye rituals. It was highly embarrassing — and yet, I think I can safely say that no germs were spread as a result.

Mind you, I can deal with one cheek kisser. I signed on for that when I got married — though, as with Lincoln and habeas corpus, I do think that practice should be suspended in time of calamity.

Like, say, flu season.

Or when my wife is sick.

As she has been for the past week or so.


Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been perfectly willing to stay in the same room with her as she convalesces. As long as she sits at least 10 feet away. And coughs into her elbow. And wipes down the phone with a moist Lysol towelette after using it.

That probably sounds hardhearted, but if you’ve seen the film “28 Days Later,” chronicling the way a hyper-contagious virus sweeps through England, you’ll understand. Strictly speaking, it’s a horror film about zombies, not a documentary. Still, it teaches an important lesson. The handful who survive do so because they have the right mindset: Sad as you feel when someone close to you gets infected, you simply have to put yourself first.

So anyway, take advantage of the opportunity flu season presents. Assert your right not to shake hands.

Why, if enough of us do, we might just break the nation of this horrible habit.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.