We must remember that the handshake is a ‘foreign’ concept that was introduced eons ago. Admittedly it’s now the commonly accepted mode universally and as such has its attendant code inscribed.
In trying to apply one of its many codes, ergo, a lady first extends her hand to be shaken. This means that it’s left to the woman’s discretion to initiate shaking of hands, in whatever context i.e. socially or even in the business world. This is all well and good in Europe, America and nations over the sea. How feasible is it in Nigeria? What happens when someone older (a man of course!) extends his hand for a handshake and you decline? As the lady in question, I guess you could shake your head and say it’s your prerogative. In the societal confines that we live, doesn’t this mean that the woman was not raised properly and is simply rude? How in the world could she have left an elder’s hand hanging?
Leaving the ethics of whether the person imbibed the manners taught as a child let’s break it down further. You attend a business meeting and meet a man you don’t know, he’s older than you (obviously) and introduces himself and extends his hand. You ignore it thinking how badly mannered the gentleman in question is and the effrontery he has shown! We all have egos and that part of our beings is quite delicate. Isn’t it better to save face (yours in this case) and shake the man in question?
Apart from embarrassing yourself (culturally) you also stand the chance of bruising his ego and that is not a really wise thing to do. Someone you’ve just met that’s just trying to be friendly just had his nose put out of joint.
Another scenario: once more a man that has heard so much about you, your work et al meets you and without any prompting, the chap demonstrated his friendliness, proffers his hand. This was at a corporate soiree and you chose to commit social suicide…not wise at all! Especially since the gentleman in question wields a lot of influence in your industry…
Let’s take this out of the corporate environment for a minute, you meet your father’s old class mate for the first time and mixing the traditional mode (kneeling or curtseying), he not only extends his hand but also draws you into a warm embrace. In that instance, do you choose to ignore this gesture and disgrace your family? The consequences of ignoring this particular handshake have a ripple effect that reaches beyond that single meeting.
These are some of the questions that dog us if we choose to apply the original norms of the etiquette of the handshake whole hog!
Behaviour cannot be taken out of context and the culture of a people affects societal rules of engagement. This is what is and there is no way we can ignore it. We currently operate a hybrid culture, and must have it in the forefront of our minds as we conduct the business of living. Unlike the Chinese that have everyone interested in learning how to use chopsticks, we have accepted some foreign norms that have become part and parcel of ours. Understandably, no matter how ‘modern’ our society is cultural subtleties will survive and trump the 21st century ways of doing business.
Again, dependent what part of the country you live in, it is not done to touch a woman that’s not your wife, whether formally or otherwise. It is usual for women to be acknowledged with a verbal greeting, a handshake or brief embrace. The mode is dependent on the familiarity of the parties concerned. Generally in society whether corporate or social, women are usually acknowledged by verbal greetings. The more sophisticated go further and shake and even peck the cheeks of their female friends. The air peck is another phenomenon that we have borrowed from the ‘oyinbos’ and is currently making its rounds in the higher echelons of bigz boys and gals and has taken over in the celebrity enclave. That is fodder for another time!
It’s very ‘normal’ for men to proffer their hands first to womenfolk in the Nigerian society, this will continue and there’s no way (short of announcing it nationwide) to enforce the ladies first perogative. So hate it or love it…the gentleman handshake is here to stay!