She used various duck and dive tactics to avoid the ever-present shake, including the empathetic hand on heart, wearing gloves and even complete avoidance.
She describes these efforts as ‘often hit-and-miss — well, more hit-and-run’.
But when she stepped away from her religion, for reasons she doesn’t go into in this book, Al-Shamahi started shaking hands and realised ‘how important physical contact is for human connection’.
She makes a convincing argument that in the not-so-distant future we will once again be clasping the clammy, germ-ridden paws of near-strangers. I can’t wait.
Still, The Handshake is stuffed full of enjoyable insights, facts and diversions. If you’re a waiter or waitress, for instance, make sure you touch your customers at some point during the meal (appropriately, of course). Your tips should increase from about 11 to 15 per cent. And I can forgive an author practically anything if she makes me laugh. “I’m Arab,” she explains at one point, so “came out of the womb very sociable, covered in hummus and gesticulating wildly.”
Having not particularly missed shaking hands over the past year, I ended this very engaging little book so desperate to get started again that I’m in danger of becoming a super-spreader. When I start meeting people again I’m going to be constantly batting my right arm down with my left, Strangelove style. Al-Shamahi might have spared a thought, however, for the malign consequences on those who are condemned to a lifetime of excessive shaking, such as the Royal Family; Prince Philip has blamed too much hand-shaking for exacerbating the arthritis in his wrists.
It is one of the only tactile gestures available to us which invites intimacy without also suggesting predatory erotic interest. And devotees learn to enjoy the refinements: the handshake combined with the reciprocal forearm clench is one to be reserved only for the most profoundly sincere encounters. Ultimately, when this is all over, we will have to make a bargain between the handshake’s emotional benefits of contact and its accompanying risk of contagion. Al-Shamahi has written a book that is cheerful, witty and well-researched.