When the July Fourth celebrations die down this year, don’t put away the franks and fireworks too quickly. Three days later, strike a blow for independence of a different sort: National Fist Bump Day.
The idea is the brainchild of writer-graphic designer and Norwegian immigrant Thomas Sandberg, who wants to free America from what he sees as the tyranny of the handshake. And now that President Obama has made touching knuckles acceptable and swine flu has turned the handshake into a health hazard (many commencements banned the practice this year), Sandberg thinks the time has come for the fist bump to get its due.
“People know what it is, and you still have that personal contact,” says Sandberg, 49. “It’s sort of a nice thing.”
Sandberg, who spends much of the year traveling in a motor home writing about American culture for magazines back home, first came across the fist bump many years ago while working at a gym in the San Francisco Bay area. A client, whom he recalls said he was one of rapper MC Hammer’s bodyguards, gave him a fist bump.
It gave new meaning to Hammer’s hit “U Can’t Touch This.”
“I really liked it. I didn’t see any difference from a handshake,” Sandberg says, except that he thought there was less possibility of passing along germs.
An encounter years later with a man who, after sneezing into his hands, shook Sandberg’s hand reinforced the handshake hostility.
Yet his preference stayed within his social circle until a little more than a month ago when he put up the Web site www.nationalfistbumpday.org, where he declares July 7 his new holiday. “I got my first fist bump July 7, 1989, a year after coming to U.S.,” he says. “And the date is easy to remember, and many like the number seven. And in many places, July is a hot month and sure to produce some sweaty hands.”
Sandberg says his campaign has nothing to do with politics (“All the sports guys are doing it,” he says) and that he’s not a germophobe (“(but) I know what people touch and what they do”), although he concedes that his Scandinavian upbringing plays a part in his aversion.
“When I came to this country, I was surprised by all the handshaking going on,” he says. “In Norway, you just don’t shake a stranger’s hand for no reason.”
Sandberg isn’t the only one trying to wean America from the handshake.
Some have promoted the elbow touch (“kind of silly,” he says) while the third Thursday of every April is officially National High Five Day. (No big surprise, Sandberg gives the high five a thumbs-down).
Still, others defend the old reliable handshake.
“We have faced other communicable diseases before without changing our basic pattern of interacting socially,” Dr. Keith Ablow, author and human behavior expert, told Fox News at the height of the swine-flu panic. “We need human touch and genuine communication more than ever right now.”
Sandberg remains unconvinced. “Just notice what people do in their cars; they’re on the phone or picking something,” he says. “I just want to make it so that people won’t get offended if they see a fist (as a greeting) instead of an open hand.”