The Elbow Hello

Monday June 21, 2021

A little shaky about that outstretched arm heading your way? Get a grip on the new reality and elbow up. That’s right – hello, elbow!

And say the words when making the move. That, according to Joe Edwards, of Blueberry Hill and the Delmar Loop fame, who is all onboard for elbow bumping and made a habit of it, long before the pandemic took hold.

“I’ve always just liked the sound of saying, ‘elbow hello’ when approaching someone. It just sounds friendly and brings a smile to peoples’ faces,” he said. “It still provides human contact, makes people chuckle and eliminates the potential spread of germs. And, by bumping right elbows you are breathing over their shoulders, not in their faces as you would during a normal handshake.”

As we slowly emerge from the confines and social distancing of the pandemic, after being sidelined for more than a year, the germ-friendly laden handshake can be an intimately uncomfortable experience. Today’s outstretched hand has become a red flag of awkwardness and confusion — not to mention a symbol for a slight rise of potential contagion. Where’s that hand sanitizer when you need it?

The plus side of an elbow hello? Think of it this way: no more worrying if your shake is firm, crushing limp or clammy, all potentially implying you are trustful, overbearing, weak or just have hyperactive sweat glands. Plus, you can’t touch your face or eat with them, so they’re practically germ-free. Go for the bow.

The shake, however, goes a long way back and, for some, escaping its grip seems to upend a cultural and genetic code embedded within us for eons. Often considered a good faith effort when making a deal or a promise, the handshake — so the story goes — evolved out of the necessity to shake down an opponent to ensure no weapons were hidden up a sleeve (or armor). Homer’s “Odyssey” equates the handshake to trust. A handshake between heavenly and earthly creatures is prominently featured in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling art. Quakers in the 17th century used the practice to convey equality. Etiquette manuals in the 1800s even dissected the method of a proper handshake. The handsy practice eventually solidified itself as a modern, everyday acceptable greeting.

That’s not to say the handshake is the end all. In Japan, a slight bow or nod of the head is preferred over the hand-to-hand greeting. Other international greetings include everything from sticking out tongues (Tibet), rubbing noses (New Zealand), kissing checks (Europe), clapping hands (Zimbabwe), face sniffing (Greenland), tusk touching (elephants) and grunting (bears).

As we continue to re-enter togetherness in public spaces and workplaces, Edwards recommends we appreciate the newfound creative energy we’ve allowed ourselves to experiment with this past year in terms of saying hello. And, yes, while fist bumps, air hugs, foot taps and namaste two-palmed shallow bows might serve as worthy alternatives, elbow hellos are an easy way to greet someone, while simultaneously practicing healthy habits.

“It’s conceivable this could catch on across the country,” Edwards said. “We were able to change habits with people this past year in terms of social distancing and mask wearing, among other things, for example. Of course, it was awkward at first, but then just became a habit. It shows we are open to change and able to make it happen.”

His daughter, Hope Edwards, has designed Elbow Hello t-shirts, including one that is a humorous take on Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel artwork, that are available for purchase online at or at the restaurant.

So, next time you dunk the winning basket, seal the big office deal, or just want to say hi – give some bow.

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