Jackie Gingrich Cushman

It may sound silly for a politician’s daughter to say this, but handshaking has always left me a little nervous.  Maybe it’s because there was so much handshaking going on before I was old enough to join in, maybe my gender makes the handshake question a bit more confusing, who knows.  In a political event, the handshakes come easy. They represent a chance to thank those who took the time to come and show their interest and support.  It’s the social situations that confuse me.  When I greet people, I often wonder, should I shake, hug, air kiss or simply say “hi?” 

Most times, what I do is determined by several variables; the person I am greeting, our relationship and the environment.  In business meetings, handshakes are most common.  When greeting friends I have known forever, hugs rule the day.  When seeing people at cocktail parties, it’s definitely air-kiss time.  When running past other mothers who, like me, are on the go, a simple “hi” is often the best that we can do.

My ongoing conundrum with this apparently silly question made more sense to me after reading Rick Beyer’s book, “The Greatest Presidential Stories Never Told,” (Collins, New York 2007).  According to Beyer, President Jefferson’s passion for equality led him to “introduce the practice of treating every guest the same way, regardless of social standing.”  Jefferson began shaking hands in the White House on July 4, 1801 at a reception - scandalous.

According to Beyer, both Presidents Washington and Adams followed the custom of greeting guests with a formal bow.  Jefferson, so consumed with equality that he used only round tables for dining, “set an example for all presidents to follow.”  In an era of kings and queens, the simple handshake implied that the two people meeting were equal and established a physical connection.

Handshake styles of the current crop of presidential candidates are highlighted by Mark Leibovich in his May 24, 2008, New York Times article, “Where to Catch the Sights, Sound and Smell of a Campaign.”  While I have never participated in a national campaign, I can imagine the unending BBQ chicken, photo opportunities and rope lines.


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.