While home for the holidays back in December, I had a conversation with my uncle, David "Blaze" Lebowski that stuck with me. We discussed the many ways in which a handshake can go awry. It seems like it should be a simple procedure, but even without the many variants that now exist, it can be harrowing. I was originally going to draw pictures of all of the various styles and mishaps but, while I consider myself a good artist, I cannot draw hands well (doubly worse in MS Paint). So deal with it, yo.
First off, the basics. The Standard Handshake. Take the right hand, and reach, thumb up, fingers down, towards the matching right hand of your Shake-Friend. When the bases of the thumbs touch, grip firmly. Shake the conjoined hands if desired. Should be easy! But it goes wrong.
One frustrating possibility is the Iron Grip. This is the person who thinks "grip firmly" means "take lessons from a vise." He (could be a she, sure, but it's almost always a he) wants to pull you into a mini contest of strength. So either you ramp up your own intensity while staring back (this guy always eye locks) and then you're two grown men gazing into each others' eyes while holding the other's body part as if it was the edge of a cliff you're tumbling off OR you allow the smug bastard the satisfaction of winning the handshake. As if it were a contest. But he made it a contest! And now you can't let him win! And it's really homoerotic! You might as well be playing a tiny game of shirtless beach volleyball while "Playing With The Boys" blares in the background (yes, Top Gun is really the only homoeroticism reference I make because what the fuck other one do you need?[PS - I love Top Gun.]).
Not that the opposite problem is any better: the Wet Noodle. This is the person who gives literally no grip back. The hand is placed in the proper position and then, well, nothing. They let you hold their hand. They have wasted your time and theirs. If I wanted this, I would hang out with corpses and/or mannequins. I want to interact with a human being, give me some sign that you're alive! And there is an even more troubling variant on the Wet Noodle that I will discuss later.
Sometimes the intensity of the grip is not the issue. My personal pet peeve is the Early Squeeze. You all know this one. You go in for the Standard Handshake and the other person doesn't wait for the bases of the thumbs to touch. They grip firmly, appropriately, but way too early. They clench your fingers as if taking up a handful of markers. You're left with no leverage and a grip strength of zero. You think "I must explain! I must demand a re-shake!" but you know you'll sound like an idiot ("Can you grab my hand again?") or a jerk ("You handshake wrongly, asshat!"). And the worst part is, you know they knew they fucked up. The handshake is just as awkward for them. This isn't a power play, like the Iron Grip. This is the premature ejaculation of handshakes. It's embarrassing for you both, especially if this is your first shake ("I swear, baby, this isn't like me!"). It happens to everyone once in a while, and it's always awkward.
Now, not all hand-interactions are meant to be the Standard Handshake. Sometimes it turns into the Icing On The Cake (left hand covering clasped rights), the Booster Shot (punch or clasp of gripping arm with left hand), or the Pathway to Intimacy (shake into hug). These all begin as the Standard Handshake. Other variants are different from start to finish. The Soul Grab or Reverse Grip is nice, that's the fingers up one that feels very 70's (see Predator for a great example early on). There's the Fist Bump, which is frequently congratulatory, and the High Five, more celebratory. Don't bother with the Warrior's Bond (hands grasp forearms) unless you are an actual warrior or you will look like an ass. With all this variety, there's bound to be misunderstandings. And there are indeed misunderstandings.
Sometimes you and your Shake-Friend have different ideas. For example, you wanted a Soul Grab, (s)he wanted a Fist Bump. Your attempts at Grabbing and Fisting fail. Awkward beat, then you try to correct to what (s)he had proferred... as they do to your initial offering. Reverse failure! Oh no! More than 5 corrections should end in tears. More than 8 in a public apology. More than 10, seppuku.
I mentioned earlier a nightmare variant of the Wet Noodle. I call it the Stefan, after Stefan Kinkajou, a fraternity brother of mine. Now, maybe he thought that because he was gay, this was OK (I have no such prejudice, equal handshakes for all!) but his handshake style was to offer his hand, completely limp, palm/fingers down. As if I should lightly hold his fingers, and perhaps curtsy. The Stefan is acceptable in two situations: 1) You are an elderly woman from Victorian England. 2) You have suffered a stroke and have partial paralysis in your hand, leaving this your only option. That's it. No other exceptions. But Stefan insisted on offering the Stefan to all. Any attempts to correct it into a Standard Handshake resulted in a judgmental glare.
It was Andrew Kazakhstan who followed the Stefan to its logical conclusion. He wondered aloud one day what would happen if Stefan was to meet a second Stefan. They would both offer the Stefan (handshake). This is the worst possible handshake of all: Stefarmageddon. It is two people, hands limp, bumping the backs of their hands together while their fingers dangle uselessly. Don't let it happen. Do your part to keep Stefarmageddon only a theory. We'll all be better for it.