There are all types of handshakes. There is the “give me some skin” handshake, the “give me five” handshake, the high-five, the low five, fist bumps, dap and a host of others. Many of these shakes defined an era like the “give me some skin” version is ties directly to Bebop.” Others tie to sports and even the military, but the handshake for today is the “Bahama Obama Cool Raul” funeral shake.
Handshakes are a traditional form of greeting. When a person meets another individual, they know or recognize, depending on the relationship, a handshake at the very least is a polite, if not friendly gesture. On the way to the podium to eulogize Nelson Mandela, President Barack Obama passed by Cuban President Raul Castro, shook his hand, said a few words and then moved on to the speaker’s stand.
When the report of President Obama shaking the hand of Raul Castro aired, the media turned it into a major news story. They were all asking, “What does it mean?” “Why did the President shake Castro’s hand?” “Did the handshake mean a change in relations with Cuba?” In other words, the media as it is wont to do, made a mountain out of anthill, that’s how small it was.
What was the President to do? Was he supposed to walk right past a man he knew who standing along the path to the podium and not even acknowledge his presence? Common decency dictated that the President shake Castro’s hand. Manners, a topic that many in the media know nothing about other than as “quaint” conventions of another place and time, are what decent people practice in civilized society.
Does the handshake signal a new era of cooperation between the United States and Cuba? No! Normalizing relations between the two countries cannot happen at the behest of the President, and certainly, not without the voice of Congress. Although, there has been some easing of travel restrictions between the two countries, in reality nothing has changed. Should they change? Probably, but interpreting a handshake sounds a lot like reading tea leaves and probably not as accurate.
More than likely speculation by politicians and pundits is much ado about nothing, a tempest in a teapot and no big deal. If the President had snubbed Castro, the results would have been the same and same questions would have been aired. It was an awkward situation, which the President handled smoothly and with civility.
What’s in a handshake? Politicians use the handshake as a way to reach out to their constituents. Athletes use it as a form of congratulations. Others use as a simple greeting or acknowledgement of another’s presence. So, what’s in a handshake?
Only the participants know.