Can the fist bump replace the handshake in the UK?
- 25 November 2013
It has been suggested that fist-bumping could be more hygienic than shaking hands. Could it become an accepted greeting in the UK, asks Ben Milne.
In the UK, it's started to creep up stealthily behind the high five. Now a surgeon in West Virginia is urging his hospital colleagues to fist bump, as a more hygienic alternative to a handshake.
The origins of the fist bump are unknown - some think the gesture began in the boxing ring, others believe it was the greeting used by bikers to acknowledge each other while still moving. It started to go global during Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign when he famously fist-bumped Michelle in St Paul, Minnesota.
Since then, it's become a trademark for the president, and even the Dalai Lama has been photographed pounding knuckles. But it has its limits as a mode of communication, according to Geoffrey Beattie, professor of psychology at Edgehill University: "The thing about the fist movement is that you're restricting the amount of information that you're giving. It's much less indicative of your underlying state."
A handshake is a lot more telling - "how many shakes, the duration, the pressure, whether the palms are sweaty. People give lots of information about themselves," says Beattie.
It's not a particularly feminised gesture either. Among groups of men, it gives a more 21st Century edge to the age-old "Hail fellow well met" message, but it's difficult to imagine an equivalent group of women fist-bumping.
Body language expert Judi James is doubtful whether it could ever catch on in the UK. "It's got about as far as it ever will," she says. "People do it as something they've nicked from the kids, and they're doing it as a joke."
In any case, there's traditional British reticence to take into account: "[The British] never feel particularly confident about greeting rituals. I work with people who have never worked out to shake hands. The chances of them walking up randomly and trying to fist bump, would fill them with horror."