I recently interviewed Forneus, the Great Marquis of Hell, who originally developed the handshake as a way of “spreading pestilence and suffering o’r the land. An excerpt follows.
Me: So, I understand the handshake wasn’t your first attempt at spreading germs throughout the human race, right?
Forneus: That’s right, Ben. Our first proposal was for a custom where people greeted strangers with a sloppy, open-mouthed kiss.
Ben: That sounds…
Forneus: Sexual? Of course. That was icing on the cake as far as we were concerned. We figured we could drum up some lust on top of the disease angle. Unfortunately, it never really caught on outside of France.
Ben: What did you try next?
Forneus: We still wanted something very direct. We thought, “What if people could greet strangers by coughing or sneezing directly into each other’s faces?” But, even before people knew about germ theory, they could tell that was gross.
So it was back to square one. I spent some time just watching people. Really watching, them you know? That’s how I realized that hands were the key.
Ben: How so?
Forneus: Most people have no idea how filthy their hands are. They touch everything with them and then touch their faces, if you can believe that.
Ben: So that’s how you came up with the handshake?
Forneus: That was the start, yeah. At first, it was just going to be touching the hands together. But a guy down in Marketing came up with the idea of making people squeeze hands, bounce them up and down a few times…really smoosh those germs together, you know?
Ben: Are you worried that COVID-19 is going to make people think twice about shaking hands?
Forneus: No. People are pretty dumb. There have been plenty of outbreaks before this. You’ll stop shaking hands while you’re freaked out, but as soon as the danger passes, you’ll go right back to it.
Ben: Any backup plans?
Forneus: We’ve had R&D looking into a few alternatives. The fist bump has potential. The knuckles aren’t as filthy as the palm of the hand, but you still have flesh-on-flesh contact.
Ben: What about the elbow bump?
Forneus: Oh, you’ve seen that one? It’s brand new. We noticed that people have started sneezing into their elbows, so we worked on a greeting that would get the elbows touching. Also, it looks goofy, which is a plus.
I don’t think we’re going to need to fall back on those, though. People seem to really like the handshake. Some guys actually believe that you can learn something about another person by how they shake hands.
Ben: Was that your idea, too?
Forneus: No, that was a gimme. Pure human bullshit. You guys come up with some crazy stuff even we don’t think of.
Ben: Any regrets?
Forneus: We never could get the Asians onboard with the handshake. They’re still bowing. From our point-of-view, that’s a total loss. It works fine as a greeting, but there’s no germ sharing at all.
Ben: What if everyone started bowing?
Forneus: That would be a loss for us, no question. The bow has a lot going for it. You can do a deep bow for formal occasions, a little nod for less formal occasions. And without any physical contact, there’s basically no chance for any #MeToo shenanigans. We’re working to keep it contained.
Ben: How are you doing that?
Forneus: Mostly by making it seem, you know, foreign.
Ben: But didn’t people used to bow in the West, too?
Forneus: Shhh! Nobody remembers that. Don’t remind them.
Ben: Thanks for talking to me.
Forneus: No problem, buddy. Nice to meet you. Put ‘er there.