A Right Gesture Saves Life

Dr-Sarita-Jaiswal

The writer is an accomplished Plant Scientist with +15 years of R&D experience with specialization in cereal & pulse crop biochemistry and genomics. An ex-Research officer at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada and served in different capacities for eight years. She has been awarded twice for the category ‘Young Scientist (Indian Society of Plant Physiology & KK Nanda Foundation for Advancement of Plant Sciences). She also serves as an Honorary Advisor to various reputed firms and reviewer of multiple Journals of International repute.

Greeting gestures, a language of paying honour, respect, love, adoration, graciousness, empathy towards each other. It is a global custom and has multiple variations. Each country has its own customized version and ritual. The most popular version i.e. hand-shake probably has its roots in Great Britain. Men in the United States will usually shake hands when greeting each other, but it’s not usual for them to kiss when greeting. Americans in addition to handshaking also do a fist bump, wave and hug.

For English people, the handshake is the formal way of greeting when meeting someone new. In informal situations, both men and women use a quick kiss on the cheek, and for women who know each other well. Handshake works universally as a professional way to greet. It is a little firm in Germany, more extended (3-step handshake) in Botswana and for Malays, it extends to touching each other’s fingertip followed by their hearts. Filipinos take a hand of their elders and press it to their foreheads called as ‘Mano’.

kiss-on-forehead
Hug

The second most common way to greet is kiss (or cheek kiss). A kiss represents intimacy and accepted as a cultural norm in European countries and Latin America. The right-left-right alternate cheek kiss thrice is common in Russia, Poland, Slovenia, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Iran and Egypt while twice in Bosnia, Herzegovina, Italy, Hungary and Rome. One kiss is required in Mexico and Belgium. In Galapagos, women restrict kiss on the right cheek only. French people kiss twice or even five times depending upon the region. Two kisses and back slap is famous in Greece. Kiss goes always with a hug if you are in Argentina.

One of the common practices is ‘pecking’ or brushing each other’s cheek with a sound of a kiss. In Greenland, they often press their nose and upper lip against the cheek or forehead and take a deep breath (Kunik), similar to a mother embracing her child. Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman and various gulf countrymen show their welcome respect by ‘touching their noses’ as greeting gesture. In New Zealand, it takes another variation in form of ‘forehead touching’.

In South Asian countries, people do ‘Añjali Mudra’ in which they show their humility by placing palm together like a prayer and tilting their head forward in respect to other people which is referred as ‘Wai’ in Thailand, ‘Sampeah’ in Cambodia and ‘Namasté’ in India. Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Laos, Burma and Indonesia follow similar gestures.

Namasté reflects not only recognition of another’s physical presence, but also of their spiritual presence. Namasté is a greeting of another’s spirit or reverence. Namah means “bow”, “adoration” and the means “you”. In other words,” I bow to you.” Flexing hands in Namasté pose releases the tension that activities like typing creates in the tendons in the wrists. It also calms the mind, helping to reduce stress and anxiety.

Anybody can say a polite gesture of love and respect. Indians take blessing from elders by complete bowing while touching feet of elders referred as ‘pranam mudra’. Bowing with no physical contact is standard greeting practice of Japanese and Chinese. Tibetan monks stick their tongue out to greet people. They also press the hands together and place them in front of their chest to show that they “come in peace”. In South Asian, various Muslims often greet through ‘adaab’ gesture. It involves bending forward the upper torso, raising the right hand towards the face with palm inwards such that it is in front of the eyes and the fingertips are almost touching the forehead. The other countries of the world have also evolved their special ways to greet people as per their culture.

handshake
Kiss-on-cheek

One of the major health and environmental challenge we face today is rapid emergence of novel pathogens. The spread of these pathogens, especially of nosocomial origin (hospital based), is often linked to cross-contamination by healthcare workers and ways of greeting gestures while meeting each other. An idea of handshake-free zones in hospitals have encouraged awareness. But also questioned how a doctor will take the physical examination without touching a patient. On the other hand, we cannot ignore the fact that microbes like Acinetobacter calcoaceticus, Enterococcus faecalis, E. faecium, and Shigella dysenteriae type 1 can sustain on hand surface upto one hour while Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Burkholderia cepacia survive up to 30 minutes. Rotavirus might survive for 20 min while the viability of human parainfluenza virus is nearly 60 min.

Studies indicate that a contaminated hand can transfer its viable contamination to seven different subjects or surfaces. One of two common items is a clean paper towel and soap dispenser with average transfer rate ranges between 0.01% to 0.64% and 12.4% to 13.1% respectively. We touch our face nearly 2-5 times a minute i.e., 2000 to 3000 times a day. In fact, whatever contamination we have on our hands is also getting transferred to our face. We may wonder whether our hand soap is capable of killing all the potentially pathogenic microbes. Are we washing our hands correctly and does it really help? We often use hand wash, sanitizers without giving attention to their content and standards. Do they qualify for antimicrobial purpose? Moreover, our greeting gestures further contribute to the spread of the germs.

For healthcare workers, the protected physical contact is a non-avoidable choice. Healthcare workers and doctors should change their gloves while switching from one patient to another. Avoiding greetings which involve physical contacts especially during outbreaks can provide a preventive approach to managing outbreaks. Hospitals need to improve compliance with hand hygiene. Handshake free zone can be one alternative in hospitals. But they aren’t designed to replace hand washing but to complement it. Creating handshake free zone will also bring attention to the hands as vectors for disease. It will also improve compliance with hand hygiene and an easy and inexpensive way to reduce infections.

It is rude to not to shake a hand if a person extends its hand towards you in the name of trust and honour. We can’t be rude to others but why not to adopt ‘Anjali Mudra’, Wai, Namasté, Wave, Bowing or Adaab to greet. This respectable way of greeting with no physical contact should be adopted in the healthcare settings. In India, by adopting our age-old greeting method especially in a healthcare setting can shield us from many invisible microbial infections. We just need to adopt, practice and re-practice these gestures to decrease the spread of infections.

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