Handshake habits and headaches

Here we are once more with the new series: Polish People. In a fascinating look at humans in their natural environment, our intrepid explorer Decoy has ventured into deepest darkest Kraków to an office building where they congregate in groups. This week, we will look at one of the most basic interactions between them – the handshake.

As a form of human communication, it is actually one of the stranger methods. Two people stick out part of their appendages and latch onto to one another and lever them up and down for 2-3 seconds. However, it is one that is used millions of times every day around the world. As Decoy went undercover in the corporate world, he aimed to bring years of experience with handshakes with him. His hands had been gripped and swung many times with Irish, German, British, French, Dutch and Belgian hands – but the peculiarities of Polish handshake habits were a new experience. Below are some preliminary findings.

To shake or not to shake

… that is the question. Decoy begins the working day early, and this allows him to be in the office before many other colleagues. As other workers in the office arrive, there are the “Dzien dobre’s” and “Cześć’s”. However, the question of shaking hands seems quite random. Some colleagues come and shake hands with anyone around, while others sit down directly after uttering a greeting of hello without any further engagement. And there are also those that shake hands with those nearest them but not the whole team. But when should a person shake hands with everyone you meet in the morning, or just those that you like?

The female of the species

While Decoy has noticed that the male of the species does take pride in a firm grip and powerful arm-swing in a handshake, there are not many possibilities to see how women fare. This appears to be a custom where guys will shake hands with most guys around, but while walking around the office offering palms forwards, they will almost deliberately skip offering their hands to women. Are they concerned that the woman would have a stronger grip than them? Or would they appear lesser in the eyes of their peers by offering to shake with a women? Either way, it’s a quirk of life here to see how this interaction doesn’t happen.

Foreigner fitting in

While interacting with Poles, Decoy has needed to go deep undercover. To meet the habits of Poles, he has taken on their habits as his own. This means that handshakes are applied in meeting anyone not seen for some time – even with other foreigners. Some strange looks have been applied when meeting other people such as those from Ireland and the UK, as he applies the new formed habit of hand-shaking. It’s resulted in some raised eyebrows and unasked questions saying “What are you doing? Are you Polish now?”

With much yet to learn, it seems Decoy will need to clock in for many more hours of undercover analysis. Handshakes may be one of the simplest of human interactions, and while he has mastered the physical methods, the underlying psychological approach to the grasp still requires further study.

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12 thoughts on “Handshake habits and headaches

  1. odrzut says:

    Regarding females – it is considered rude to initiate hand shake with female – she should initiate handshake, or if she do not, males should just greet them with “cześć” or sth like that. But if given female initiated hand shake a few times before, it’s OK to initiate hand shake with her next time.

    The same applies to people of higher “status” – it’s up to prezes, if he wants to hand shake with workers.

    At least that’s how I understand it.

  2. Steve says:

    I think there’s a secret, ritual handshake: at least, I’ve seen it some half dozen times or so. It starts with sneezing into your hands out of sight of the person you’re just going to shake hands with …

  3. Bob says:

    I shake based on what I think is correct and I don’t care at all about the ‘BS’ of the Pan Prezes, Pan Dyrektor crap or the male/female thing. And I never use the Pan/Pani description.

    In other words, I shake hands with everyone I meet – if it offends them it is their problem.

    Call me uncouth and perhaps counter-cultural here in Poland but society needs (IMHO) to enter the new times not stay stuck in the old.

    Arrows coming my way I am sure but I have pretty tough skin.

  4. jedrek says:

    I shake hands with dudes, but with chicks it’s pretty much up to them, I follow along. Only thing that bugs me is when you go in for the shake and dudes do that overhand hook kind of deal.

  5. Nika says:

    Well, I only offer a handshake to a person I’ve just met or I am being introduced to, right after saying hello. That’s it…. I don’t see a need to shake everyone’s hands or to kiss their cheeks (even worse)

  6. Paulina says:

    It starts in the school – boys shake hands only with boys. I don’t think it’s because of the savour-vivre, it’s rather considered as a men’s world. From Wiki: “Nowadays in Eastern Europe male-female and female-female cheek kissing is a very common greeting between friends, especially younger than 35 years old”. True.

    At work is of course different. Women who work together and meet every day don’t shake hands and don’t kiss (unless they are friends). But when you get to know a new person they shake.

  7. Varsovian says:

    I’m all for some female on famale kissing action.

    Hand shaking between male coworkers is old fashioned and needs to die. So many coworkers insist that you shake hands with them, even if you already said hello.

  8. Yana says:

    I’ve had two job interviews in the UK recently and, as a Polish girl, I expected a firm handshake at the end after “thank you for your time” etc. Imagine my surprise when nobody initiated a handshake! It sort of felt like a dinner without a dessert or a romantic evening without (…) ;)
    leaving me in a state of cold suspense.
    Then I just left, feeling they didn’t like me at all. But they did. Strange world ;)

  9. Sylwia says:

    Women don’t like having their physical space violated. I’m grateful to every man who doesn’t insist on shaking my hand or otherwise touching me unasked.

    Bob thinks that his native society is somehow more modern and better(?) than ours. Well, if I wanted to shake hands with everyone and be surrounded by strangers calling me by my first name I’d move to his country. People who move to Poland should be open to the way we do things here.

  10. tadek says:

    I’m surprised that foreigners see this habit as something unusual. I’ve allways thought this is common behavior in most parts of europe. Personally, i avoid shaking hands with people i don’t know or don’t like, because, as i see it, it’s all about showing sympathy to somebody through phisical contact. For me the rules for this habit are very blured.

  11. For me the rules are quite clear. I’m used to shake hands when 1) meeting someone for the first time 2) seeing a friend or a relative after a long time. The hierarchy rule applies: the handshake is initiated by the one higher in hierarchy, i.e. manager, director vs a worker, teacher vs student etc. In case of a man and woman of equal status, the initiative is woman’s. But I guess it all depends on the regional customs where you come from. I once worked in an office where 2 guys (out of some 20) would tour the entire “open space” floor every morning and methodically shake hands with everyone. Quite annoying to me and somehow, hmm, devaluating for the act.

  12. […] Source: http://polandian.home.pl/index.php/2011/01/23/handshake-habits-and-headaches/ […]

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