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A handshake is a short ritual in which two people grasp each other's right hand, often accompanied by a brief up and down movement of the grasped hands. While its origins remain obscure, archaeological ruins and ancient texts show that handshaking was practiced as far back as the 2nd century BC. A depiction of two soldiers apparently shaking hands can be found on part of a 5th century BC tomb on display in the Pergamon Museum, Berlin (their reference SK1708). Some researchers have suggested the handshake may have been introduced in the Western World by Sir Walter Raleigh in service with the British Court during the late 16th century. The handshake is thought by some to have originated as a gesture of peace by demonstrating that the hand holds no weapon.

The handshake is initiated when the two hands touch, immediately. It is commonly done upon meeting, greeting, parting, offering congratulations, expressing gratitude, or completing an agreement. In sports or other competitive activities, it is also done as a sign of good sportsmanship. Its purpose is to convey trust, balance, and equality.

Unless health issues or local custom dictate otherwise a handshake should always be made using bare hands. In some regions especially in Continental Europe attempting to perform a handshake while wearing gloves may be seen as an inappropriate or even derogatory behavior. In traditional American etiquette the requirement to remove a glove depends on the situation - "A gentleman on the street never shakes hands with a lady without first removing his right glove. But at the opera, or at a ball, or if he is usher at a wedding, he keeps his glove on."

In Anglophone countries, shaking hands is considered the standard greeting in business situations. In casual non-business situations, men are more likely to shake hands than women. It is considered to be in poor taste to show dominance with too strong a handshake; conversely, too weak a handshake (sometimes referred to as a "limp fish" or "dead fish" handshake) is also considered unseemly due to people perceiving it as a sign of weakness. Because a first impression can last a lifetime, the handshake is actually very important when meeting people for the first time and a weak handshake can instantly make people form negative opinions of you.

Atlantic City, New Jersey Mayor Joseph Lazarow was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for a July 1977 publicity stunt, in which the mayor shook more than 11,000 hands in a single day, breaking the record previously held by President Theodore Roosevelt, who had set the record with 8,513 handshakes at a White Housemarker reception on January 1, 1907. On September 21, 2009, Jack Tsonis and Lindsay Morrison broke the Guinness World Record for the world's longest handshake, shaking hands for 12 hours, 34 minutes and 56 seconds.

Modern customs

Tennis players shaking hands after match.
Two business men shaking hands.
There are various customs surrounding handshakes, both generically and specific to certain cultures:

  • Generally it is considered inappropriate, if not outright insulting to the initiator side, to reject a handshake without good reason (such as an injured right hand).
  • Individuals involved with the scouting movement specifically use a left handshake, as a convention instituted by Lord Baden-Powell. The idea came from a legend Baden-Powell heard while he was in West Africa. Two warring chiefs confronted each other, wanting peace. He dropped both his weapon and his shield. Not only was his right hand empty of a weapon he could attack with, but his left was empty of a shield of which to defend against the weapons of others with.
  • Practitioners of fencing shake with the non-sword hand after a bout. This is due to the sword hand being employed holding the weapon.
  • Secret societies and fraternities and sororities often use secret handshakes to identify themselves as initiated brothers or sisters to outside members.

  • In American culture, there is a "Soul Brother Handshake," also called a "Power" or "Unity" shake, dating to the 1960s, begun among African-American men, and still widely practiced between men of various races and particularly among teenage boys as a gesture of close friendship. This is usually a three move procedure, beginning with a traditional, palm-to-palm clasp, followed in quick succession by a clasping at the hilt of the thumbs, and finally, by a hooked clasp of only the fingers, in the manner of railroad couplers.
  • In some cultures people shake both hands, but in most cultures people shake the right hand.
  • It is generally accepted in Western culture that a male handshake should be firm. Weak handshakes are sometimes referred to as 'limp' or 'cold'.
  • In some Oriental countries (such as Turkeymarker or the Arabic-speaking Middle East), handshakes aren't as 'strong' as in America and Europe. Consequently a grip which is too firm will be considered as rude.
  • Among Arabic-speaking people, handshakes accompanied with the salutation As-Salamu Alaykum (peace be upon you) are an old tradition.
  • In Turkeymarker outside business situations, shaking hands is not the standard greeting among men. In casual non-business situations, men will less likely shake hands and among women hardly at all.
  • In some religions, such as Islam and Orthodox Judaism (according to some opinions), which discusses the opinion of various Halachic authorities on this issue, and notes a possible distinction, according to some authorities, between initiating a handshake and returning a handshake (i.e. where the other party extends his/her hand first). The prohibition against physical contact between members of opposite sexes precludes shaking hands. In these religions, men and women however do shake hands amongst people of the same gender. Between opposite genders, a short nod or bow is given. Moroccans also give one kiss on each cheek (to corresponding genders) together with the handshake. Also, in some countries, a variation exists where instead of kisses, after the handshake the handpalm is placed unto the heart.

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