Sunday, October 28, 2007

Handshakes and Applauding

First, let me preface this entry with the disclaimer that anyone living in (or who has ever lived in) West Africa will find this a bit ridiculous.

Second, I feel perfectly comfortable saying that, unequivocally, the Liberian adaptation of the everyday handshake and a round of applause ... just plain rocks, and it needs to be shared with those who haven't yet experienced it.

The Liberian handshake is one of the cultural goodies you find right as you step off the plane. It's a full arm process that involves the following:

1 - grasp the hand of your counterpart:

2 - slide into a thumb-to-thumb grip:

3 - pull back to clutch the finger tips of your counterpart:

4 - release with a loud snap of the middle fingers:

Note that the handshake can be abbreviated by jumping straight from the quick hand shake to the snap.

Perhaps the best thing about this handshake, and the fact that I found most surprising, is that it is uniformly universal, throughout much of West Africa, at least. Just as you would snap fingers with your neighbor, or doorman, or local "ground pea" (peanuts are called ground peas) vendor... you would also snap fingers with a County Superintendent (the equivalent of a state governor), a Senator, Minister, or... well, I'm unsure as to whether you would initiate a snap after a handshake with President Ellen.... But you would definitely be exceedingly flattered if she did so with you.

The Liberian applause is equally awesome - and it, too, is a bit of a production (notice the pattern of dramatic performances).

As I've seen it observed, among the crowd there is typically an applause leader. This person takes it upon him or herself to call everyone's attention. Then, slowly, and quietly at first, he or she rubs his/her hands together. As the energy builds the leader calls out the person for whom the commendation is intended, thanks them for whatever it is they did, counts out a series of claps which the crowd follows - then "pushes" or "tosses" the good energy to the person receiving the applause. This you have to see to fully appreciate. The below clip is from a recent employee appreciation outing to Barnes Beach (just southeast of Monrovia).


Anonymous said...

hey leese! love the handshake and the applause! i often get tired of all the 'kisses' in france... which depending on who you're kissing hello/goodbye to sometimes seems less personal than a handshake. and some days i just miss hugs! hope you are loving it there... i just got back from an awesome weekend in barcelona and feel totally reenergized.

Rosemary said...

Hello. This handshake is not a 'Liberian' invention. Nigerians have the same handshake also and I remember when I was little that all my uncles used to (and still do) do this handshake.

Julie/OPENPediatrics said...

Amanda, OPENPediatrics at Boston Children's Hospital would like to include these handshake photos in an educational medical video on Implications for Emerging Infections with Dr. Michelle Niescierenko. The video will be available online, worldwide. Would you grant OPENPediatrics permission to use this handshake photo series? Thank you in advance, Julie for OPENPediatrics.