Can tapping elbows replace the handshake?

The elbow bump has replaced the handshake in many situations, including this greeting between Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (right) and Dutch Minister for Medical Care Bruno Bruins in The Hague, Netherlands, on Tuesday.

// Coronavirus has put an end to handshakes, at least for now. So what can we do instead?

The handshake is a commonplace greeting, and refusing to shake hands is seen as a snub.

So in the era of coronavirus, social distance and remote work, how are we supposed to greet people, if at all?

This isn’t the first time the handshake has been under threat. For example, in 2003 during the SARS epidemic, the World Health Authority recommended the fist bump instead.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the handshake will become a thing of the past. It just means that we need to find a suitable alternative for the time being.


One popular alternative is the elbow bump, which has been used by various people including the US Democratic rivals Biden and Bernie earlier this week.

Biden and Sanders last Sunday. Image: CNN.

It’s a popular choice because there’s less potential for contact, it’s light hearted, people are often wearing long sleeves (especially in business settings), and you can’t touch your face with your elbow.

However, not every likes it. It’s not very business-like, and may seem a bit more aggressive than just a handshake. A bit weird too.

Also, the safest place to sneeze is into our elbow. So although there is less potential for contact, it’s probably best to give this one a miss.


Prince Charles has recently adopted the namaste greeting, which involves placing both hands together with a gentle bow.

Prince Charles with Ant and Dec (Source: Getty – Pool)

In India, it’s a greeting that carries respect and politeness, although it is still important to ensure that this isn’t inappropriate or come across as culturally disrespectful to the person you’re greeting.

English behaviouralist Mark Bowden suggests simply holding your hand up at chest or face height, almost like you would at a swearing in.

“That’s a signal we’ve had across cultures that says ‘I’m unarmed. I have no tools, I have no weapons, I have nothing to hide’”, Mark says.

Jazz Hands!

Other methods include waving, finger guns, the Vulcan salute (check the context for these), and my personal favourite, jazz hands.

“Jazz hands!” (Source: Archer)

Which brings us back to the origins of the handshake. Extending your right hand in friendship was seen as a sign of peace, as – with most people being right hand dominant – it showed you were not be carrying a weapon. Jazz hands does the same thing.

Whatever you choose, just remember to keep a smile, try not to spread any germs, and remember that context is important.

Hopefully, we can go back to handshakes someday soon.


MAIN IMAGE: The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (right) and Dutch Minister for Medical Care Bruno Bruins in The Hague, Netherlands, on Tuesday. REMKO DE WAAL / ANP/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES