If I Don’t Know You, I Don’t Want to Touch You (No Offense).

Little Beach Street Novel

“Not bad,” my new colleague declared, having taken it upon herself to assess my handshake. She conducted this test on everyone she met for the first time, administering it as many times as it took for her poor subjects to pass. Luckily, I only had to shake her hand once.

I remembered this assessment as I read Jenny Colgan’s Little Beach Street Bakery, a light romance in which a 30-something bread-maker moves to an isolated village where no one would dare to bake (you’ll have to read the novel to find out why). Polly’s introduction to this insular English town comes from a realtor, Lance Hardington, who follows his “ferociously strong handshake” with a euphemistic description of the area as “unspoiled” and “up-and-coming.”

Polly decides to give the town a chance, and her willingness to set aside her first impressions of it ultimately pays off. As she learns, there’s some truth to the old cliché that first impressions are not always what they seem.

However, the emphasis western culture places on the importance of a firm handshake suggests otherwise. We’re taught that a strong handshake, though maybe not quite as fierce as Lance Hardington’s grip, is associated with positive personality traits that make a good first impression, one that will result in landing a job or achieving some other academic or professional milestone. We believe it signifies self-assurance, dominance, and friendliness, while a weak handshake indicates shyness, introversion, and neuroticism.

In addition, the odors exchanged when two palms meet also convey information. Research published earlier this year showed that people subconsciously bring their hands to their noses after shaking hands, presumably to benefit from the chemosignals carried in sweat (which, according to the linked article, indicate information such as a person’s age, gender, and emotional state).

That’s disgusting to think about, isn’t it? As a germophobe, I don’t want to shake hands with anyone. Ever. When I can’t avoid it, I fixate on the foreign germs and sweat on my skin until I can get myself to the nearest sink. The person who makes no effort to shake my hand leaves a better first impression on me than the guy who sniffs his hand after crushing mine.



  1. I don’t like to shake hands with people either, although I will take a hand if it is offered to me. I hadn’t heard about the smelling the hand subconsciously after. No one around me that I asked admits to it, so if they do it, it would have to be subconscious if they do it at all.

    I am not a hugger either. Close family, yes, but not strangers or people not close to me.

    So, should we ever meet, you are perfectly safe from having unwanted touching. 🙂

    1. “So, should we ever meet, you are perfectly safe from having unwanted touching.” Ditto! 🙂

      The study suggests that people sniff their hands subconsciously. Now I can’t stop thinking about it whenever I shake hands!

  2. As a nurse, I was always touching another human being. It was my job. I understand what you are trying to say here, but it shakes me to the core to be honest with you that we are not more willing to be “in touch” with another human by just shaking their hand “if” they offer it to us. On the one hand, I have not even touched my kids hands until they washed them. haha

    1. I can understand where you’re coming from (you are a very caring person!). From a public health perspective, though, we would probably be better off if we shook hands a little less or made a point to wash our hands before shaking them. Maybe our greetings could include other forms of touching that are less likely to spread germs.

      Thanks for stopping by! Have a great weekend!

  3. Eew! The thought of someone smelling their hand after a handshake makes my skin crawl. When in those touchy feely work situations, I pretend I’m getting over a bad cold. I don’t like being touched but it’s also to avoid actually getting sick. People have so many germs on their hands!

    1. “The thought of someone smelling their hand after a handshake makes my skin crawl.” Same here! I do everything I can to avoid shaking hands with people.

  4. I enjoy hugs, even from people I don’t know well, but the handshake is a confluence of germs I’d rather avoid, especially in winter when it seems everyone is sniffling and coughing. It’s an unsanitary practice that needs to go away.

    Anytime I use a public restroom, I wash my hands, dry them, then open the door with the paper towel to avoid other people’s germs. If there are no paper towels, I’ll use a sleeve or shirt hem. Some freeway rest stops utilize self-flush toilets and open doorways; brilliant! Really cuts down on germ transfer.

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