I went to a parents thing at Henry’s school, and I shook a lot of hands. Here is what I noticed:

1. A lot of people, men-people and women-people, shake hands the way I do: you keep sliding your hand forward until your thumb-pits engage, and then you shake and/or squeeze.

2. A lot of people, men-people and women-people, DO NOT do this.

Here is what everyone who didn’t do the first option did: they stopped as soon as they were holding my fingers in their fingers, and then they pressed lightly. Like a duck bill, lightly clamping my fingers. I did not know what to do at that point. They were duck-billing my fingers and I could not complete the shake. It’s like if you go for a hug, and someone grips your upper arms and stops you before you get into the hug-space, and your arms are left dangling alone.

I tried this out with Paul just now. “I need to shake your hand for a blog post,” I said, and we shook hands the way I think of as Shaking Hands: slide hands forward until you can slide them forward no more. Shake. Then I said, “Okay, I need to see where it is that it stops when people do it the other way,” and we tried that a few times but it was hard for two untrained novices to figure out where to stop if not at the thumb-pit, and then Paul got all squirmy and uncomfortable about it and we stopped trying.

But Paul does say he has encountered that handshake before. “ONLY with women, right?,” I asked, but he refused to commit. But…I can’t picture two men shaking hands that way, can you? Delicately pressing each other’s fingers? I think it must be that that is the way some women offer their hands for a handshake: stopping before the thumbs can get acquainted. And how some men have been trained to shake hands with women: like, be CAREFUL with women.

So here is my four-point theory:

1. Some women are taught to shake hands without engaging the thumb-pit, no matter who they’re shaking hands with.

2. Some women are taught to shake hands with full thumb-pit engagement, no matter who they’re shaking hands with.

3. Some men are taught to avoid the thumb-pit with women, but to engage the thumb-pit with men. (Maybe some women are also taught this?)

4. Men are never taught to avoid the thumb-pit with other men.


So then I, as a woman, encounter these options:

1. Men who have been taught to grab a woman’s fingers without engaging her thumb-pit (but would shake a man’s hand with thumb-pit engaged).

2. Men who have been taught to shake anyone’s hand, man-hands or woman-hands, with thumb-pit engaged.

3. Women who have been taught to grab anyone’s fingers, man-fingers or woman-fingers, without engaging the thumb pit.

4. Women who have been taught to grab anyone’s fingers, man-fingers or woman-fingers, with the thumb-pit engaged.


And I, as a woman, NEVER encounter:

1. Women who have been taught to shake women’s hands with thumb-pits engaged, but men’s hands with only-fingers. (Or maybe I DO encounter this, but don’t realize it.)

2. Men who have been taught to shake women’s hands with thumb-pits engaged, but men’s hands with only-fingers.


And my theory further theorizes that Paul, as a man, encounters these options:

1. Men who shake with thumb-pit engaged.

2. Women who have been taught to grab anyone’s fingers, men-fingers or women-fingers, without engaging the thumb pit.

3. Women who have been taught to shake everyone’s hands with the thumb-pit engaged.


And that Paul, as a man, would never encounter:

1. Women who have been taught to shake women’s hands with thumb-pits, but men’s hands with only-fingers.

2. Men who have been taught to shake women’s hands with thumb-pits, but men’s hands with only-fingers.

3. Any man who would shake his hand with only-fingers.


Here is what I need: data points.

Were you raised as a girl-person or as a boy-person? And how were you trained to shake hands? Were you trained to do it the same way no matter who you were shaking hands with? or were you trained to shake boy-hands differently than girl-hands? Or if you don’t remember being specifically trained one way or another, how did you grow up doing it? I don’t remember being trained; I think I picked it up from examples and social cues (i.e., seeing others do it, and participating in handshakes with others), and also I remember reading a lot of references to “good firm handshakes” and “limp/cool/fishlike handshakes,” which further developed the concept.

66 thoughts on “Handshakes

  1. Jesabes

    Is it possible that people who shake fingers-only (whether with only one sex or both) just weren’t trained at all? I can see that as something a shy or touch-averse child or adult would do and might continue to do unless trained otherwise. Or adults who are afraid of being too forward with the other sex. Or men who think their big strong man handshake might hurt women’s hands. Or the child of an adult who ALSO was never trained and therefore does the fingers thing, which the child copies. I don’t necessarily see that adult *telling* the child to do so, though. But maybe?

    My guess is 1. Handshake training isn’t all that common and 2. When it does happen, the training emphasizes thumb-pit engagement. (3. It might also focus on how hard to squeeze, how long to hold on, etc, but that’s not the focus here.)

    I am a female who was given probably no more than a sentence or two of handshake training in my life, which basically boiled down to “be confident, but not a jerk.” As in, make sure you have full-hand engagement, don’t stop short. But also, don’t make it a strength contest, because that makes you adversaries instead of teammates. (To be clear, my dad uses this method too (as does my mom), so it was not someone telling a girl that she should be cooperative and non-confrontational BECAUSE she’s a girl.)

    Now! If we were talking Downton-Abbey-era, people may have been taught finger handshaking. It may still exist as a holdover in some places/families? Do you think?

    1. Jesabes

      Oh, and I’m in the Midwest. I’ve found finger-only handshakes to be so exceedingly rare that they really stand out as odd. My perspective might just be skewed!

  2. Monica

    I’m a woman and I shake with the thumb pit engaged, regardless of whose hand I’m shaking. (Unless it’s a dog’s paw or small child’s hand, I guess.)

    I hate bad handshakes. Loathe, even. The finger gripping, the limp fish, and the vise grip. You don’t need to break my fingers to earn my respect, but don’t go limp on me either. Ugh.

    I do thumb pit engaged, a medium grip, and one good pump (up and down) and then it’s over. To me that is a successful handshake.

    1. dayman

      Ditto to all of this. ALL of it!

      Also I am also midwestern, if that is a valuable data point.

  3. anne nahm

    I have been an accidental finger shaker from time to time. Here are the reasons off the top of my head:

    1) I have something in my right hand, (like holding a baby) and the person seems to have baby blindness. Their hand is already out there. I don’t want to be rude. I give them the left hand, which is impossible to do a thumb-pit.

    2) I have sweaty/clammy hands. Or it’s too hot, you know? Summer’s in full swing, let’s do the air kiss of hand shakes.

    3) I don’t really like the person and don’t want full pit intimacy, or otherwise feel I want to set an aloof boundary. (Examples of this — at a party, meeting a husband who has a reputation for a wandering eye)

    4) Weird idiosyncrasy which I believe comes from my mother being left handed. Long explanation: My mom is left handed, and my whole childhood, she would do cross-brain stuff like say, “Turn right here” but would also put up her left hand and indicate “turn left”. To this day, left-right will get crossed in my head occasionally, and I will put my left hand out to shake, which leads to finger grab instead.

    Hope this helps!

    1. Jessemy

      Thanks for providing another point of view!!! That takes confidence :)

      A curious thought on the aloof boundary: I feel like the sexual tension in an equitable handshake is minimized…less than the fingers-only version, which feels sort of gender-aware or courtly to me. I have no idea how men (or women seeking a female mate) view this issue, but in my mind, a firm handshake actually desexualizes things.

  4. anne nahm

    Also, older folks often get the finger shake, because I worry about arthritis or delicate skin. FWIW, they also get the hover hug, same reason.

  5. Suzanne

    Raised as a girl. Taught to engage thumb pits (a term I now love wholeheartedly). I encounter the finger duck bill as well and HATE it. HATE.

  6. Matti

    I was raised as a girl person and was “taught” to shake hands (as in this is the way everyone shook hands with me and I followed suit) in the fully engaged thumb pits way.

    I have also encountered people who do the duck bill finger clasp method, and 1) I do not care for it 2) Sometimes it is more of a limp hand rather a finger clasp 3) It is only with women that I have encountered it
    I also think it might be a holdover from the more “genteel”/finishing school type greeting where women did literally offer their hand and men kind of “bowed” (body or just head) over it. Or. SHUDDER. Kissed the hand.

    An informal poll of my husband, who is also a teacher and shakes a wide variety of male/female parent hands at many school functions, says that he does encounter it. Not super often. But, when he does encounter it, it is only with women.

  7. Kelly

    I have an immediate “FUCKING QUIT IT!” reaction to someone handing me their fingertips for shaking. What are you even doing? Even if you didn’t get handshake TRAINING, you’ve SEEN people shake hands. Everywhere. For your entire life. It is HANDSHAKING, not limp finger grasping. Grab my hand. Pump twice. WE’RE DONE.

    Personally, I was never handshake trained, but know enough just… from life… to find the phenomenon of someone HANDING ME THEIR FINGERTIPS to be ABSOLUTELY ENRAGING. I have personally never encountered it with a man, only women. However, I also just flat don’t like to shake hands. I’ll have my hands behind me to attempt to communicate that verbal “nice to meet yous” are fine with me. Or I will extend a fist for a bump. Or I will swing my hand and slap the other person’s extended hand. I find handshakes to be too intimate of contact for me to be entirely comfortable, and this is for two reasons: one, I have extreme boundaries, and two, I firmly believe in the engaged thumb pit, and it’s TOO INTIMATE.

    Fortunately, I am not a business lady or any type of person who is required to make a professional impression, so when I make your acquaintance, we are either destined to be permanent strangers and thus I don’t need to touch you at all, or you are someone who best know right up front that I am someone who is going to swing out and give you a horizontal high five instead of shaking your hand, and it’s up to you to decide whether you’re going to be deal with that and be friends with me, or wander off never to see me again.


    1. Alex

      If there was a “like” button in this comments section, I’d be clicking it now.

  8. Kerry Clifford

    My husband says that only women shake hands that way (or men who are shaking hands with a woman), and primarily European/non-American women.

  9. Judith

    I have to shake a lot of hands in my job, and I’ve encountered the duck-bill shake as well. I do think there have been a few men with it as well, though I never consciously counted. It’s more women than men, definitely. Anyway, I also dislike it, because it feels incomplete, or accidental.

    There is another option that is also a rare thing, but it has happened a few times and it baffles me that it even EXISTS: the slide-in that then does NOTHING. They don’t grip your hand softly, they don’t duck-bill it, they just get all the way to the thumb-pit engaging only to skip out on the actual shaking part of the hand-shake. Their hand is hooked into yours but it just hangs there, left for you to grab and shake, offering no grip or tension whatsoever. I’m aware that some people just have pain in their hands and can’t shake strongly, so I generally match the strength of my grip to what the other person does, but even the frailest of old grannies manages to at least close their hand around yours. These people – nothing. And as rare as it is, it’s usually younger to middle-aged men.

    I really can’t figure that one out.

    1. Ashley

      I have encountered this “here is my hand, do what you will with it” type of “shake” and it is, indeed, baffling. And annoying.

  10. Gigi

    I am of the impression that they weren’t taught and are just sort of floundering around trying to figure out life. I actually was trained on how to shake a hand (that’s what going to a business school will get you – hand shaking training) and it should ALWAYS (no matter the sex) be a fully engaged (right up to the thumb pits – LOVE that term!), confident hand shake.

    To be honest, the limp fish, finger clasping hand shake leaves me with a very poor impression of that person.

  11. Ashley

    Girl person here. I don’t recall being specifically trained one way or the other, but I do full thumb pit engagement, firm grip, firm shake. And I’m a little judgey about finger-pressers. SHAKE MY HAND DAMMIT. Also I’ve had more than one man comment, with surprise, on my “firm” or “strong” hand shake, so you may be onto something with boys and girls being trained differently.

  12. Elizabeth

    Girl. I had extensive hand shaking training bc my mother is THAT type. Thumb pit only but also look the person in the eye and say “hi! I’m Elizabeth. Nice to meet you.” I HATED being made to do this and now it is EXTREMELY useful that it’s an automatic habit and probably my only social skill. And now I’m wondering if I’m failing at parenting by not forcing my own children into handshaking training.

    1. Shawna

      Ha! I was thinking the exact same thing as your last sentence while reading the rest of the comment that preceded it! *mental note: make sure my kids know how to shake hands properly*

  13. Alison

    Raised girl here. I honestly can’t recall handshake training as a child. But I did receive very vociferous training around the time I was interviewing for jobs: firm hand, full thumb pit engagement, solid shake, and done. I shook a LOT of hands at my old job, though mostly of the slightly older, male variety and found this type of handshake most common. I did run into the limp finger squeeze (strongly dislike) but I think it was usually with younger women.

  14. HereWeGoAJen

    I shake thumb pit to thumb pit. Raised as a girl person and kind of all over the country/world. I did shake hands with someone in Indonesia (and this person was from somewhere else in Southeast Asia but I have forgotten where exactly) and they did the gentle finger squeeze. I was mentioning it to my mom later and she said that in that area, the norm was the gentle finger squeeze.

  15. Ra

    Girl person. I was never specifically taught how to shake hands until I was in college studying business. The hand shake was a part of our communications class. Thumb pits for all.

  16. Barb

    Raised as a girl. Don’t remember being taught one way or the other. I definitely prefer full thumb pit engagement and when I encounter a man who wants to only grab my fingers to shake delicately, I find it enraging and sexist. I usually only notice it in men and women of an older generation.

  17. Jessemy

    Woman thumb pit engager here. Can’t recall a fingers-only handshake from a man. I do feel fazed by fingers only.

    1. Jessemy

      OH MY GOSH, I just remembered something that links handshakes to Sense and Sensibility the movie!

      1. Put on the Emma Thompson commentary.
      2. Go to the scene where Marianne is snubbed by Willoughby and the swan-necked woman. Marianne offers Willoughby her HAND. To SHAKE.
      3. Listen to the lovely Emma explain how a handshake (I think she was referring to a modern handshake instead of the kiss-my-hand gesture), an actual handshake was a new thing back then, a sign of equity, and that by rejecting her, Willoughby was being cold and old-fashioned.

      AAAAAH! Satisfaction!!!

      I also want to put in a good word for the other hand. Sometimes, when I’m happy or feeling affectionate, I will add the other hand to make a handshake sandwich. I like it (mostly) when people do it to me.

        1. Shawna

          One of my workplaces makes us do the handshake sandwich, so I’ve come to associate it with marketing-types. For this reason I now feel it lacks sincerity, i.e., precisely because it is supposed to artificially convey sincerity at this workplace, which I assume not all employees genuinely feel.

          1. Jessemy

            Wow! I’ve never gotten the sandwich at work. That would be a bit more than I’d like in a professional setting. For me, it’s best at family gatherings or church events. Or weddings, especially if you’re meeting a spouse you haven’t met before.

  18. kim

    I wasn’t taught to shake hands with women/men differently – the only advice was “be firm” – no limp noodling handshakes. With men it’s usually not awkward – they are more prone to shake hands and do it correctly (thumbs engaged) – (although I recently met a new co-worker/male – who not only did the finger shake it was limp noodle-y and I very nearly said “ewww” out loud). Women often seem unsure if they should shake hands and sometimes that gets weird – and some women seem to overcompensate for being small and grip way too hard…:( !

  19. Alison

    I loathe, despise, and utterly hate finger tip handshakes. It’s happened to me a few times recently, and it puts me off a person. I sound judgmental. I *feel* like handshaking is a standard practice, but I should know by now that it is not, and it takes all kinds to make a world, and etc. But the last person (a woman-person) literally held her hand out with palm not quite vertical nor horizontal, and limply rested her fingers into my shake. It seemed snooty, I can’t explain it in a different way. And it was so, so awkward. It was just a few days ago at work!!

    I am a woman-person raised as a girl-person, and I was taught thumb pit usage… probably partly through books/media and partly experience.

  20. Brittany

    Raised as a girl and a thumb pit engager. That’s the way I like it. When someone grabs my fingers, I kind of wonder if I should present my hand to them so they can kiss it – it has that delicate, outdated sort of feel to it for me.

  21. Lacey

    Raised as a girl. The only training I received was a generalized sentiment to shake firmly with confidence, so I do the thumb pit.

    Frustratingly enough, I’m not a big fan of hand shaking because it does get pretty weird/yucky if hands are sweaty, but my church is one of those with the meet and greet interlude after the first song on Sunday mornings so I am forced to shake numerous hands in the space of about thirty seconds. I find the limp finger grasp is most common in older ladies and young men under the age of thirty. The older lady thing I get, but the guys? Weird.

  22. Kate

    Girl. My experience exactly matches yours, except that I know exactly one man who shakes hands the #2 way, and it is not because I’m a woman – he does the same with my husband, father, neighbor, etc. I know this, because it is so noteworthy that we have all talked about it. Nice guy. Worst handshake ever.

  23. Amy

    I’m like you — nobody taught me to shake hands, but books made “firm” grips sound good and “limp” grips sound bad, so I went for firm. At some point in high school, a male friend and I jokingly made a deal before class and shook on it, and he raised his eyebrows and said something to the effect of , “Wow, you’ve got a nice handshake. Most girls don’t. You’re a bit too pinchy with your thumb though.” (Thanks for the pro tip, Jerry.) That’s the only handshake feedback I’ve ever received. I’ve kept on engaging thumb-pits and try not to over-grip with my thumb.

    I’m sending commenter Kelly a virtual fist bump.

  24. Rachel

    I am a woman. I shake everyone’s hands the same way (unless someone delicately grabs my fingers, then I just stand there). Grasp hand with thumb pit engaged, shake hand up and down once, disengage.

  25. P-Mum

    I have always gone for the full on, firm handshake, hate the fingertips or dead fish type. But here’s a twist – 23 yrs ago, attending the funeral of my then-boyfriend-soon to be husband’s grandfather, I was introduced to a family friend, an older gentleman. And as I extended my hand to shake his, my hand slid well past where I was expecting to encounter the thumb pit – as this man had no thumb! Yes, boyfriend and his brother found it hilarious, me not so much! Just keep smiling!

  26. Megan

    My dad taught his girl children to do full contact, firm handshakes. In retrospect, probably because of having to many women at church do the limp finger thing…going to a conservative church as a child is good handshake practice, where else does the average kid get to practice things like that? I’ve probably given some odd handshakes in the past few years though, like a commenter above, I have trouble when balancing babies and an surprised. The thing I notice the most is not getting a handshake but more of a handhold…maybe they mean it in an encouraging way because of the balancing babies and general chaos around me, but I never know what to do or how long they expect it to last.

  27. KateB

    We may have reached Peak Swistle here with this post. The term “thumb pit engagement” will stay with me forevermore. I am so enjoying all the comments, too.

  28. Melinda

    I was raised a girl-person and I believe in full thumb-pit engagement. I know I had handshake training in business school but I was already doing it right because my salesman father felt it was important. The line “They were duck-billing my fingers and I could not complete the shake.” made me lol in recognition and sympathy. I totally make snap judgements based on handshake performance.

  29. Sarah

    Girl person. Don’t think I was ever formally given handshake training, but had to shake a lot of hands in my first job out of college and it seems like it was said to give a firm, engaged shake.

    I find the handshake ritual to be more natural with men. But I also find men will comment on my handshakes, “now that’s a good handshake,” in ways that lead me to think some women aren’t getting the message about firm shakes.

    But also, I find meeting with women where there would be the handshake ritual can be awkward at times. Some women don’t automatically put their hand out. So I try and be the stick my hand out person to get the ritual started. In those cases it comes across as more of a reluctant, “let’s get this over with” from the reciprocating woman shaker.

  30. Jon

    I guess I’m a bit of a rare bird in this flock: male. I remember my father giving me some handshake instruction, and “firm” was part of it, but also “not too firm,” and also in general to match the other person’s grip. I’ve encountered lots of women who shake limply or duckbillishly, and a very small number of men who do so. Occasionally a man grips way too hard, and that really puts me off.

    Curious to know: I was also taught, when meeting a woman, to always wait for her to offer her hand, never take the initiative. Is this still good etiquette, or is it now considered sexist? I would think it would still be good practice because of the issue of unwanted touch.

    1. Emily

      I agree. Too hard a shake is annoying , too,
      But I have small, weak hands and I know that’s part of the problem!

    2. Alison

      Have you seen the first season of Master of None? There’s a scene, can’t remember the episode, where a man shakes hands with all the men and doesn’t shake hands with the woman. It’s a very moving scene. The woman character is understandably upset (it was clearly a snub, women don’t need to get acknowledged as active participants like men do), and the men characters take a moment to reflect on how differently the world treats women/how women experience the “same” experiences. Aziz Ansari is awesome.

      That being said, in my region, if you are in a situation where you would shake hands with someone, the someone’s gender doesn’t matter. If you’d initiate with a man, initiate with a woman. I’m on the west coast, if anyone else has a different perspective.

    3. Monica

      I’m from the Midwest. I don’t think it’s necessary to wait for a woman to extend a hand.

      The only times a handshake has turned into unwanted touch for me has been when the other person won’t let go of my hand after it is over. They keep holding it. Then I start to feel uncomfortable.

    4. Shawna

      Speaking of unwanted touch when encountering people, your comment put me in mind of something else that happens surprisingly often where I live (Ottawa, Canada): I extend my hand to shake and the person uses it to pull me into an awkward hug! And if it’s a French person (Quebec French, not France French), if I’m being embraced it’s accompanied by kisses on both cheeks (usually air kisses, but not always).

      The hug without kisses happens more with women, but the hug with kisses is more often with men.

  31. jill

    Raised as a girl, and basically have had on- the- job training where I shake a lot of hands. I’m comfortable with either. Some of the people with whom I shake hands are elderly women who seem pretty delicate, and I let them lead. Some men seem to want to treat me gently, and I’m okay with that too.

  32. BKC

    Girl-type over here, and I do remember handshake training day in school. We were young enough to find the term “dead fish” hilarious, so…second grade, maybe? I now cannot shake hands without flashing back to this training, which sometimes makes handshakes awkward since I’m only like half there, mentally.

    But yes, thumb-pit engagement, 2 standard shakes. Maybe three if you won’t let go as I’m trying to let go. Related data point: I don’t work in an office anymore (where handshakes were standard) but I do them as a matter of habit when I meet other parents when volunteering at school stuff. I always extend a hand, and dads always always shake it. Moms do to (I’ve never been left hanging), but sometimes they look at it suspiciously. Are handshakes too formal for the PTO?

  33. Liz

    Girl, raised as a thumb-pit engager. But Georgette heyer books talk about the finger shaking thing

  34. Shawna

    Ugh, I hate running into a fingers-only shaker! I refer to these people as “early closers”, and I’ve encountered “early closers” that grip way too hard, as if they want to stop you from getting in a proper handshake at all costs, but/and want to show dominance. They are even worse than the full-shakers that only let you shake their hand, and apply no pressure to grip yours in return (the “limp shakers” – these have ALWAYS been women, in my experience). I don’t believe I was “trained” to shake hands, but if you look at pictures or drawings of people shaking hands they always show hands fully engaged. I myself go for a full, firm grip and shake.

    Once I was giving a practice interview to a summer student and after we’d finished with the feedback for him, the last piece of advice I gave was that he shouldn’t try to break the interviewe’rs hand in the initial shake, and he looked sheepish and admitted that he’d felt my knuckles pop when he’d squeezed.

  35. Joanne

    I was raised as a girl, I don’t remember being trained to shake hands, but I do remember that my father always hated what he called the “dead fish” handshake. So we weren’t trained, necessarily, but we definitely were discouraged from just laying our hands in another person’s hands and calling it a handshake. We are Catholic so we shook hands every Sunday with every person around us, so that’s a lot of handshaking for a young kid! I try to lead by example with my own kids, I shake their hands in church and probably over do the movement so they get it. I really don’t like the kind of handshake that isn’t, quite, that you describe. I also don’t like when some man at work tries to break my fingers to prove something about his penis.

  36. elizabeth

    I have been known to RANT about this because I DESPISE the “only-fingers” handshake. It feels so gross and I never know what to do with myself. I am a female person and I do not remember being trained to shake hands but I’ve always done it the normal way (full hand engagement). Ugh, this is one of my pet peeves, Swistle! Thanks for addressing this.

  37. Jess

    Girl here. I don’t think I was ever specifically taught, but I picked up rather quickly that “full pit engagement” and a firm grip was how to give a handshake. I HATE the limp fish handshake. I get it more frequently from women and the mental message I receive is “I’m just appeasing you here”. I do get it from men as well though. I work in the construction industry and when I’m out on a site, I’m met with equal parts “limp fish” and “full pit engagement”. I feel like the limp fish givers are afraid they’ll break my delicate hand. Which is just stupid. I’m out there in a hardhat, work boots and grubby clothes. Shake. My. Hand. I have called a few men out on it, and explained that some women (me) see it as condescending. Also? I will not remember a good handshake, but I will NEVER forget a bad one. It may be extreme, but a bad handshake is a big character flaw to me. We have a rep that comes in to our office quite frequently and the first time I met him, he gave me the limp fish. I cringe when I see him now and go out of my way to avoid a handshake. Also, for what it’s worth, I am not a “touchy” person. I strongly dislike any physical contact from people (exceptions for a significant other and my children) to the point where I get teary and start to have an anxiety attack, but still feel the “limp fish” is inexcusable. (I’m more fun than I sound. I swear.)

  38. Kalendi

    Girl here–My father taught me to shake hands (firm, but not too firm) when I was doing job interviews especially. ( I probably did hand shaking when I was younger, but don’t really remember). The only time it didn’t serve me well–when I went on a job interview (30 years ago) and stuck out my hand to shake and the women interviewer didn’t take my offered shake. Needless to say that interview didn’t go well. I go to a church where sometimes we shake and sometimes we hug and sometimes we do both. I think the women are more huggers, but I haven’t really noticed the finger thing. I am not, however, a fan of the limp dishrag kind of shake. (Another kind I don’t like is when they shake your hand and put their other hand on top of the shaking hands–what is that supposed to mean?)

  39. Alex

    Socially, I also find handshaking to be a liiiiiiittle too much skin-on-skin contact for me, and then pair it with smiling and looking someone square in the eye while it’s happening, and oh boy, I gotta be in the right mood for all that.

    That said, I handshake with pits engaged when the situation calls for it, and in professional settings, I will often be the instigator of sticking my hand out for the shake and engaging the smiling eye contact. That was a self-taught thing – I learned it helps me feel more confident and at ease when I’m the one supposedly putting others at ease, if even only in my own mind.

  40. Jenny Grace

    I was raised as a girl person, shake with thumb pits engaged, and am intensely uncomfortable with the weird finger option (although I don’t think I have ever gotten limp fingers from men, only women, if that adds to your dataset at all).

  41. Jacquelyn

    I am a woman and I prefer the full thumb-pit handshakes. I have encountered the finger shake many times, mostly with other women but also with quite a few men. I may have even been guilty of doing it myself a few times, when I am not that committed to a handshake but the other person surprises me and I feel obligated to participate but uncomfortable due to being caught off-guard.

    The worst handshake experiences for me, though, have been with men who grab the fingers (not thumb-pit) and then proceed to give a full, extremely painful, squeezing handshake. I feel like my fingers are about to snap under the pressure and end up with lingering tingling pain for minutes afterward. It hurts even worse if you happen to have a ring on one of those fingers… Sadly, I have to say that I have experienced this a handful of times.

    1. Jacquelyn

      I wonder if the finger shake originated in the Victorian era when ladies would present their hands to be gently “kissed” by gentlemen during a greeting.

  42. Lawyerish

    I am a die-hard, full-hand (thumb pit), firm grip, single pump handshaker. If I want to convey particular affection or warmth, I might also grab the other person’s elbow with my left hand, or add my left hand to the shake. But that is quite rare.

    I don’t recall if I was specifically taught all this as a child, but I do remember my mother saying how much she hated limp/soft handshakes. My daughter shakes the hand of the head of school every morning and they do the proper full-hand shake.

    I can remember a few occasions where I ended up doing the fingers-only shake, and usually it was because there was a mixed message from the other person or sort of a failed grab on both sides, OR my hands were full and I put out my left hand. And every time, I’ve been mortified by the thought that the other person viewed me as a weird handshaker.

  43. Maggie

    I was raised as a girl person and am 47, which I think is relevant because I feel like maybe this has changed. I was never trained to shake hands. I figured it out by watching others when I got a real job after college. Possibly because I’ve worked in male dominated fields my whole adult life, I learned to shake hands with both men and women the way men in my sphere did it i.e., looking in the eyes, going to the thumb pit, firmly (but not too firmly) squeezing and going up and down 2-3 times. We taught Oldest (14) to shake hands this way with men and women and are doing the same with Youngest (7).

    I feel like more kids are trained to shake hands these days than they were when I was a kid – or perhaps it was that when I was a kid women didn’t really shake hands in greeting that often – it was the 70s and women weren’t in the business sphere as much as they are now? Or maybe my parents just missed that training?

  44. Ruby

    I was raised as a girl person, and while I don’t remember ever specifically learning how to shake hands, I’ve always engaged the thumb-pits. The finger-shaking method is totally baffling to me.

  45. a/k/a Nadine

    If I am forced to shake hands, then it is full hand, firm grip. No thanks on the limp or partial handshakes. However, I think shaking hands should be eliminated from social interactions. I DO NOT want to TOUCH your hand AT ALL. Ever. No, no, no. If a hand is offered then I am obligated to accept it, and why should I be forced to do that? I never, ever offer my hand to anyone of any age or gender.

  46. J

    I am (and was raised) a female Dutch person. I was specifically trained by my father to give a firm handshake with thumb-pit-engagement. It always throws me off when people don’t reciprocate. The absolute worst was with one of my former doctors (female). She must shake dozens of hands every day but her handshake was an APPALING combo of the limp fish and the duck bill. Literally the worst handshake I’ve ever encountered!

  47. nic

    European and raised as a girl-person here, and DEFINITELY got trained to do a firm, thumb-pit handshake. My dad loathed any other kind, and if my friends (female or male, didn’t matter) would give him a limp hand or just fingers, he’d send them outside and tell them to come back in and try again. He must have trained at least 120 teenagers that way (we were 4 siblings + all 30 of each of our classmates :) ).

  48. velocibadgergirl

    I was raised as a girl-person but taught to shake hands by my Taekwondo instructor, who insisted we give everyone a firm, correct, confident handshake. When I meet people who shake hands poorly – meet the thumb pit but keep a limp hand, especially – I always judge a little. But it occurs to me now I should judge the weak shakers’ teachers more than the shakers themselves.

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