2020: A year where the fist-bump became mainstream greeting

Tim Reynolds

AP – The moment called for a handshake. Or would have, under what used to be considered normal circumstances.

As in, before 2020.

Here’s the scene, from December 21: Director of employee health services TabeMase, also a nurse practitioner at ChristianaCare Christiana Hospital in Newark, Delaware, had just inserted a needle — one delivering the COVID-19 vaccine — into the left arm of United States (US) President-elect Joe Biden. After Biden said a few words about the magnitude of the moment, Mase extended her right arm to begin bidding him farewell. Not for a handshake.

For a fist bump — the official greeting of 2020, and probably beyond.

“It certainly would have been a handshake if it was 2019,” Mase said several days after the fistbump seen live around the world. “But we’re in the middle of a pandemic. We’re trying to figure out ways to keep our patients safe and keep that human connection… That fist bump was, ‘I see you, I hear you, I’m connecting with you, but I’m keeping you safe.'”

Safety is the primary reason why the status of the fist bump elevated big-time this year. The handshake was simply a causality of the coronavirus. Once a customary greeting, it has become beyond frowned upon. No less of an authority than the nation’s leading infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci, flatly called for the end of shaking hands believing it not only would be a deterrent against spreading coronavirus, but even other viruses such as influenza.

So, now we bump, not shake. Some — Fauci among them — seem to prefer the elbow bump, maybe even a brush of forearms.

US President-elect Joe Biden fist bumps with nurse practitioner Tabe Mase after receiving his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine at ChristianaCare Christiana Hospital in Newark, Delaware. PHOTO: AP

But let’s face it: They lack the coolness of the fist bump. It’s been here for years – just look to athletes’ celebrations – but never more popular than now.

Barack and Michelle Obama famously fist-bumped when he clinched the Democratic presidential nomination in June 2008, making the move very cool in some circles, causing outrage in others. A Fox News analyst suggested at the time the then soon-to-be First Lady offering the fist bump to her husband was akin to a “terrorist’s fist jab”.

“Let me tell you, I’m not that hip. I got this from the young staff,” Michelle Obama said that year on ABC’s The View. “That’s the new high-five.”

Now, it’s the new handshake.

Santa Claus fist-bumped kids this year in lieu of trips to his lap. Heads of state from around the world — Japan, China, Malaysia, Canada, Kenya, France, Greece, Cyprus and many more — openly fist-bumped in 2020. Even in the demonstrations that dominated much of the year in the US, as racial tensions and cries to end social inequality reached new heights following the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of police, cops and protesters sometimes would tap their fists as a sign of compromise or even peace.

“When you think about it, it is definitely weird how we’ve converted and transitioned into doing this, with the fist bump all we do,” Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro said. “But I feel like just everyone across the world … has just gotten used to it and that’s what we do because of the circumstances.”

The handshake has been around for centuries. A widely held belief is that the handshake originated to prove to someone that a person was offering peace and not holding a weapon.

Turns out, maybe they were holding weapons after all.

“The reality of it is, in modern times, you may well be harbouring a bio-weapon,” Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group Dr Gregory Poland said earlier this year.

Poland’s point mirrors the one Fauci has made repeatedly this year: Hands carry germs, and shaking hands simply exposes someone to the germs of another.