by Jep Hostetler
Atlanta 2003. The Mennonites are coming! The Mennonites are
coming! That means the universal Western symbol of friendship,
the handshake-or shall we say handshakes-will be seen, and felt,
everywhere two people meet and greet. There will be no holy kisses,
at least on the adult side of the convention. Handshakes are
the order of the day. What kind of shaker are you?
First, there is the "dead fish" handshake.
It feels like you have just shaken hands with a dead fish. Not
that many of us have actually shaken a dead fish, but we can
imagine how it feels. This handshake says, "I'm actually
humbler than you. I am the humblest Mennonite there is."
Or it may simply mean, "I really do not want to hurt you,"
or "I'm very shy."
Then there is the "top-loader" handshake.
This hand comes at you with palm down. Look out. You must supplicate
yourself to this hand by turning your palm upward. Many times
the owner of this style of handshake will place his or her other
hand from beneath yours and hold it between his or her two hands,
sometimes even patting your hand. The power of this handshake
is obvious. You must be subordinate to this palm-down shaker.
How about the Mennonite "farmer's" handshake?
This is a strong, firm handshake. It can be owned by anyone who
does hard physical labor with his or her hands. It is firm, complete,
solid, and well timed. It is the straightforward handshake, with
a modest amount of gusto. You may even smell a hint of HTH, the
universal udder disinfectant. Refreshing.
Then there is the "vise-grip" encounter.
You cannot get away, even if you wanted to. Your hand is held
in a vise grip and you may even feel the opposite hand clasping
your left shoulder. This handshake will send people with arthritis
through the roof. It is the most painful handshake, and is almost
exclusively the domain of Mennonite men, particularly church
leaders, insurance salesmen, and televangelists.
Then there is the "finger grabber." "I'll
just grab your fingers before you can consummate a full-fledged,
all-the-way-to-my-thumb-pad handshake." This handshake says,
"I will not be vulnerable to you. As long as I can grab
your fingers before you make it home, I can control the handshake,
and maybe even you." It may also say, I'm protecting myself
from the vise-grip.
Also there is the "gotcha" handshake. It
is all about timing. As one shakes your hand, he or she notices
whether or not you are a hugger. As your hand is being shaken,
you are physically being drawn toward the other person. Then
you are encircled by a one-arm hug as his or her other hand is
shaking yours. So you have the shake-my-hand, pull-me toward-you,
one-armed-hug type of encounter. You've been "squashed"
by a gotcha!
Last, but definitely not least is the "secret Mennonite
handshake". This handshake was invented so that underground
Mennos could recognize each other with a handshake. By shaking
hands, while at the same time placing one's thumb on top of the
others first knuckle and pressing gently, you have given the
secret sign that you are a Menno. Of course, it is so secret
that not all Mennonites have heard about it. And one other thing,
you may not use this secret handshake unless you have been cleared
by the ethics committee of the Mennonite Church USA and you adhere
to the strict rules of the tribe. To tell the truth, it has not
caught on in most circles, perhaps because I made it up.
Jep Hostetler, Columbus, Ohio, is a humorist
and, an associate professor emeritus at the Ohio State University
College of Medicine. He and his wife Joyce serve as staff persons
for the Mennonite Medical Association. Be sure to classify Jep's
handshake at Atlanta.