Ways Malawi is better than the US: Handshakes

Another entry in my growing list of ways Malawi’s culture trumps what we do in the US. Malawian handshakes are always pretty cool – you start with a typical shake, then release and rotate your hand toward the person to grasp the back of their hand. It feels very legit, especially for a white guy (cool handshakes aren’t really our strong suit).

Cool handshakes are common in the US, though. Malawi really wins out when it comes to shaking hands when your hands are full. In America that leads to an awkward dance of shuffling crap between hands or trying to set stuff down. It is never cool, and usually embarassing for everyone. The Malawian solution is simple and elegant – if there’s stuff in your hands, you simply touch wrists. Moreover, this is a totally standard thing: no one thinks it’s weird or awkward or amusing, it’s just what you do, every time one party’s hands are full. This makes it fundamentally different and better than the American put-stuff-down tango, which feels like a failure and seems lesser than a real handshake.

One thing I try to keep in mind as I come with these ways in which Malawian culture is better than America’s is the feasibility of introducing the change. Usually changing a culture is pretty tough, if not impossible – they tend to evolve slowly due to powerful forces, not suddenly because we demand a change. This one seems really low cost, though. The tough part is getting everyone on the same page to begin with, so that no air of awkwardness builds up around the wrist-bump thing. That could undermine its main advantage.

2 thoughts on “Ways Malawi is better than the US: Handshakes”

  1. I agree completely. Not only with cool handshakes being a superior way to greet people, but that handshakes themselves are the consistent and ubiquitous way to greet people (East Africa context specific… mine being TZ). In the states, its pretty common for men to shake hands a when they see each other (both in business settings and friendly), but it is not nearly as common for women. A lot of women hug each other, but this can be a bit forward. Also, a lot of men shake hands with men and then hug/kiss women on the cheek. Also seems a bit forward. And then of course some women do shake hands. The problem is that American greeting culture is just so inconsistent… especially for women. This can make greetings a bit awkward and, well, uncool.

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