A handshake is as much a part of personality as the way we walk, and although we may modify and improve a poor handshake if someone calls our attention to it, it will usually be just like us, assured or timid, warm or cool.
Bad handshakes include the bone crusher—the grip that makes the other person, especially a woman wearing rings, wince. Or a limp, damp handshake that seems to say, "I am not really happy to meet you at all!" Or it may be the kind of straight-arm shake that seems to hold the other person off, or the octopus grip that draws you inexorably toward the shaker, who never seems to want to let go. Then there's the pump handle, or country bumpkin shake, and the very Continental style—reserved for women—which, though not a hand kiss exactly, is cozy and overlong, ending in an intimate little squeeze.
The good handshake is elbow level, firm and brief. A man does not offer to shake hands with a woman unless she makes the move first. Outdoors, it is no longer necessary for him to keep her waiting awkwardly while he removes his glove, nor need he apologize for taking her hand with his glove on. Whether he is shaking the hand of a man or a woman, the shaker must look the person he is greeting firmly in the eye and, at least, look pleasant, if he doesn't actually smile.
The Octopus Grip
The Bone-Crusher Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Nov 21, 1952
Alex and I have just taken a step which I do not believe we have ever needed to take before in the long history of WEIRD UNIVERSE. We deleted someone's comment because it was nasty, rude, hostile and generally boorish. (And may I also say that the suffering longtime member of the community, the commenter to whom the insults were addressed, reacted with restraint, dignity, calm and a noble nature.)
Let me take this unfortunate occasion to remind everyone that WU has always been a landmark of collegiality and friendliness and acceptance, albeit happily flavored with irony, black humor and appreciation for the world's incredible stupidity. Especially in comparison to much of the internet, WU remains a happy place. Let's try to keep it that way.
Thanks, as always, for your attention, support and understanding.
Proxemics was a term coined by anthropologist Edward Hall to describe the study of "man's use of space as a specialized elaboration of culture."
Elevator proxemics, by extension, is the study of the use of space in elevators. Or put another way, how people behave in elevators.
The most widely cited expert on this subject is the psychologist Layne Longfellow. On his website, he describes how he became the media's go-to guy for questions about elevator behavior:
It's the mid-1970s, and I am in my office, Director of Executive Seminars at The Menninger Foundation. My phone rings, and my friend Ralph Keyes, the writer, says, "I'm doing an article for New York magazine on how to behave in an elevator. I'd like to interview you."
"Ralph, I know nothing about it and have never given it a second thought."
"I know, but you have a prestigious position as a psychologist and you're funny, so make something up."
I leaned back in my swivel chair, tossed my feet up on my desk, gazed unfixedly into the trees outside my window, and said some things that I thought were, in fact, funny - but also true. Ralph published the article, and then my phone REALLY began to ring - I had entered the world's media archives as an expert on elevator behavior.
Below are a few nuggets of wisdom I've been able to glean about the science of elevator behavior, gathered from a handful of articles, mostly referencing Longfellow. Although a few other researchers have also been roped into becoming instant experts on the subject.
Studies of elevator body placement show a standard pattern. Normally the first person on grabs the corner by the buttons or a corner in the rear. The next passenger takes a catercorner position. Then the remaining corners are seized, and next the mid-rear-wall and the center of the car. Then packing becomes indiscriminate.
"When the sixth person gets on you can watch the shuffle start," says Longfellow. "People don't quite know what to do with the sixth person. Then another set of rules comes into play governing body contact."
In an uncrowded elevator, men stand with hands folded in front or women will hold their purses in front. That's called the Fig Leaf Position. Longfellow says, "As it gets more crowded you can see hands unfold and come down to the sides, because if you have your hands folded in front of you in a really crowded elevator, there's no telling where your knuckles might end up. So out of respect for the privacy of other people you unfold them and put them at your side."
High-status individuals are given more space. For instance, if the president of the company gets on, he gets more space.
Men leave more space between themselves and other men than women do with other women.
People tend to put more space between themselves and others wearing bright colors because, says psychologist Robert Sommer, "it's too much stimulation."
According to Ralph Keyes, "The self-confident, it turns out, never get on first. Instead, they wait affably with underlings for the cab, then wave everyone ahead into the car like a hen mothering chicks."
Passengers avoid eye contact because, explains Longfellow, "eye contact, especially in American culture, is the root to intimacy."
"The ultimate egregious faux pas a person can commit in an elevator is to face the back," says Longfellow. "Everybody allocates as much space as possible to the lunatic who's facing the wrong way. If you'll do something so outrageous as to stand backwards and look at them, God knows what else you would do."
Everyone looks at the numbers. The most common explanation for this is that it allows everyone to avoid eye contact, and it gives people "the appearance of having something to do." But anthropologist Harvey Sarles argues that the real reason to watch the numbers "is to enhance peripheral vision and allow you to keep an eye out for any quick, dangerous movements around you. Then if someone is going to jump you, you can make an adjustment."
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Who We Are
Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction books such as Elephants on Acid.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.
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