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The proper response to a bad handshake

Earlier this year, a man reached to shake my hand after I congratulated him on winning a storytelling competition. As his hand clasped mine, he squeezed much harder than was necessary or expected, causing me pain, so I responded in the way I always do when a man (it’s always a man) attempts to crush my hand for no earthly reason:

I cried out.

“Ow!” I whined dramatically, in a voice both reedy and high-pitched. “That hurts!” The man immediately released my hand, looking almost panicked, but I continued. “Ow,” I whined again, shaking my hand. “Why did you do that?”

The man stared at me in both anger and disbelief. The fact that several other storytellers were witnessing the moment may have played a role in his reaction, but I’ve done this many, many times to many, many people, and the reaction is almost always the same:

Panic followed by embarrassment and anger.

But I don’t care. If you’re a man, you know that a certain segment of the male population feels the need to squeeze your hand to the point of pain when shaking it.

I have no idea why they do this.

Perhaps no one has ever taught them how to shake a hand properly, but it’s hard to imagine that someone could be painfully shaking hands for three or four decades without anyone pointing out the error of his ways.

Perhaps it’s an attempt to exert physical dominance over another person. A sign of strength. But even this is nonsense because these crushing handshakes are never expected. They amount to a sneak attack. An unexpected, unwarranted assault.

Of course you can crush someone’s hand in your own if they aren’t expecting it.

But give me a heads-up that you’re about to act like a jerk, and I promise that I can respond with a crushing handshake of my own.

So what am I to do? Just allow these monsters to crush my hand while I silently wait for the handshake to end?

Pretend it’s not happening?

Act like their crushing handshake means nothing to me?

Live my life accepting the fact that my hand will be crushed every now and again?

No, I say. Not on my watch.

So years ago, I adopted this strategy of whining like a baby when a man crushes my hand. I really play it up, trying to sound as weak, fragile, and loud as possible. I toss aside all my concerns about appearing weak and pathetic in an effort to make my counterpart look foolish and ridiculous.

If you’re going to crush my hand, I’ve decided, I’m going to stomp on your public persona. I’m going to let the world know that you hurt people when you shake their hands. I am going to respond to your sneak attack with one of my own.

A friend recently witnessed this strategy in action and had to walk away, claiming that the moment was incredibly awkward.


It’s the least I can do to someone causing me pain.

I suggest you try it sometime. I know it sounds awkward for everyone involved, but I never feel anything but great joy and enormous satisfaction.