So, it's finally official. We have a pandemic and, if we haven't already done so, need to start implementing some pretty drastic hygiene measures, including dumping the handshake and shelving the mwah-mwah air kisses and hugs. So what do we replace them with?
Well, we don't have to look far. The Japanese, Indians, Muslims, Nepalese, Thais all have greetings that don't involve immediate touching and certainly don't look as silly as the elbow bump or foot touch some people are experimenting with.
Many Muslims, if they're unsure about whether you may have handled haram (forbidden) food such as pork, won't shake your hand but rather place their hand over the heart as a form of greeting. It means no disrespect but has its basis in simple hygiene. And it's so much more dignified than awkwardly bumping elbows.
The Thai sawadee greeting is accompanied by hands placed in a prayer position and a bow of the head. Similarly, the Hindu namaste greeting.
And the Japanese bow also shows deep respect while keeping physical contact to a minimum.
I tried the namaste greeting at a gathering in Canberra the other night as people thrust their hands out for the shake or extended arms for the hug.
Some got it immediately. You could see the thought flash across their faces - "Oh yes, the virus." Others betrayed momentary affront until I explained it was not about them potentially passing coronavirus to me but me passing it to them. The last thing I want to do is become a carrier.
The initial awkwardness in changing up our traditional greeting led to a conversation about the virus and how we had to break lifelong habits for the moment at least.
Unfortunately, as the evening wore on, it became harder to remember to avoid the handshake. But a couple of lapses reminded me to wash the hands - and I mean WASH them. None of this rinsing them under the tap but the full 20-second kahuna. Soap, circular motions, thumbs, fingers, backs of hands, wrists - the works.
The toughest challenge, however, is not touching your face. Go on, try it. See if you can get through the next hour, let alone month, without a finger making contact with your chin, nose, cheek, eyebrow, forehead.
I figure the best bet is to wash your hands once an hour and do it with soap, which removes the fat from hands, which is where nasties are most likely to gain a foothold.