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No-Touch Greetings Take Off: People Are Getting Creative About Saying 'Hi'

Practicing social distancing and getting creative with no-touch greetings are key methods to curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Max Posner/NPR
Practicing social distancing and getting creative with no-touch greetings are key methods to curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The way the world says hello is changing. Quickly.

In lieu of the germ-rich exchange of the handshake, alternative salutations are taking hold.

In Tanzania, President John Magufuli introduced a low-touch greeting when he met with the opposition leader from Zanzibar Seif Sharif Hamad, reports Eyder Peralta, NPR's correspondent in east Africa. It takes the form of a catchy, two-part salute, using both hands and feet.

In the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, "because of Ebola, not coronavirus, people did the Ebola greeting, which involved bumping elbows," Peralta says. It's become popular in other parts of Africa and around the world.

In Italy, a culture known for warmth and intimate greetings, "there has been a very sudden change. Old habits [are] being cast aside," says Sylvia Poggioli, NPR's correspondent in Rome. "The outbreak is having a major effect also on the Italian character. Italians are getting used to less intimacy in public."

And what are Italians doing instead? "I've mainly seen elbow bumping, or simply waving from a distance," Poggioli says.

In Israel, NPR correspondent Daniel Estrin says he's embraced the fist bump. And norms do seem to be shifting. "My Palestinian colleague says she paid a condolence call to a mourning house and no one was kissing cheeks or shaking hands as is traditional," Estrin says.

At a time with public events such as Purim parades are canceled, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is suggesting people adopt "Namaste," a traditional greeting in India. He demonstrated at a recent press conference, with his hands pressed together and a slight bow.

In London, NPR correspondent Frank Langfitt says, "There are signs that Brits, who are not huggers like Americans, are changing the way they greet one another."

At a recent Commonwealth Day ceremony at Westminster Abbey, Boris Johnson refrained from shaking hands, explaining later at a press conference that he's following the lead of the government's medical officers.

Langfitt notes that Prince Harry also attended the ceremony and bumped elbows with British singer-songwriter Craig David.

In Paris, a city where cheek kissing is as common as pain au chocolat, norms are shifting too.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, our correspondent in Paris says, "People are being told not to do "la bise" anymore (that's the traditional cheek-kiss greeting) or shake hands."

And she confirms the new keep-your-distance approach to greeting seems to be catching on. "Parents interviewed dropping their kids off at a Paris school said they were not doing the bise anymore," Beardsley says.

"It's changing everything," Beardsley says. Some people are doing the "corona bise," she says, "where you kind of just kiss at the air."

But not everyone in France is on board. "I just asked a waiter in the café where I'm sitting and he says he's still doing the bise," she shared via e-mail. "He says it's actually much safer than a handshake because there are way more germs on your hands than on your cheek."

This survey finds 91% of those surveyed in France continue to do la bise with their close friends and family.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., on Twitter people are sharing some creative alternate greetings: Jazz hands, peace signs, air high-fives, and finger guns were among them.

Oh and don't miss the "coronavirus curtsy!"

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.

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