by Jep Hostetler
the universal Western symbol of friendship, the handshake-or shall we say shakes-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
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
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.
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.