Greeting Gesture Confusion

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"Heil five!" "Huh?!"

Alice is meeting Bob for the first time. They say hello to one another, then move closer to greet one another. Alice holds out her hand for a handshake, but Bob spreads his arms to give her a hug. Hilarity Ensues, along with awkwardness for all concerned.

The hug-handshake confusion is the most overt form of this gag, but it can be done with other confusions of the appropriate gesture to use (one character goes for a handshake and the other for a fist-bump or other Handshake Substitute; Bob kisses Alice on the cheek, to Alice's surprise; a French character goes to kiss an American character on each cheek; and so on and so forth). It's even possible to do this in sci-fi or fantasy works via the Cross-Cultural Handshake.

A stock gag in Cringe Comedy. Often found in White Dude, Black Dude routines, when the "white dude" goes for a handshake and the "black dude" goes for a Handshake Substitute. Compare Handshake Refusal, where one character outright refuses to shake the other's hand, deliberately creating an awkward situation; or The Unhug, which is awkward for both parties. Definitely Truth in Television: just about everyone has experienced this at least once. It's particularly likely to happen when people of radically different cultures meet.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • One of the adverts in HSBC's 'The world's local bank' campaign has a British man and a Japanese man attempting to greet one another; the Japanese man extends his hand for a handshake, while the Brit attempts a Japanese bow. This leads to some confusion, until they both settle on the handshake.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Gate: When Princess Piña meets the (female) Japanese delegate, the meeting ends with the delegate reaching her hand out... which, in the princess' culture, is apparently only done for wedding ceremonies. Fortunately, one of the aides tells her what to do.

    Comic Strips 
  • A Zits strip had this when Walt and Jeremy complete a project and attempt to celebrate. One goes for a high five while the other goes for a fist bump. Subsequent attempts to correct this with other gestures just result in more confusion.
  • In Dilbert when Dilbert is introduced to new coworker Amber Dexterous and assumes she's "going for the hug" when she holds out both arms. In fact she shakes with both hands.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Boss Baby, Tim and the Boss Baby go through this a couple of times. Tim likes a handshake, the Boss Baby prefers a fist bump.
  • In Ferngully The Last Rainforest, Zac offers a handshake to Crysta. Unfamiliar with the concept of shaking hands, she just sticks her hand out at Zac's face.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Get Out, this is Played for Drama when Chris goes to fist bump Andre, and he responds with a handshake. This confirms to Chris that something isn't quite right with Andre.
  • In Meet the Parents, Greg first meeting Dina, his fiancée's mother, goes exactly like this.
  • In Tommy Boy, when the titular character (played by Chris Farley) meets someone he believes to be his future stepbrother (played by Rob Lowe), Lowe holds out his hand to shake.
    Tommy: Brothers don't shake hands! Brothers gotta HUG!
  • At the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Hermione hugs Harry right away but has an awkward hesitation with Ron that turns into a handshake.
  • Pacific Rim: Newt Geizsler and Hermann Gottlieb have a moment like this when Newt offers a Secret Handshake in friendship after Gottlieb offers to drift with him. Gottlieb is so uncool he has no idea how to do it.
  • Twice in The Great Dictator, the European dictator Hynkel tries to shake hands with Napaloni but his "Heil Hynkel" salute come in between and their hands miss each other several times until they finally figure it out.
  • Played for laughs in the film version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When Lucy first meets Mr. Tumnus, she offers her hand, which Tumnus stares at in confusion. She prompts him to shake it, saying it's a greeting custom, so he grips her hand between his thumb and forefinger and shakes it back and forth, causing Lucy to giggle.
  • In Avatar, Jake offers a handshake to Neytiri's father, only for him and his guards to misinterpret it as a hostile gesture and point their weapons at him.
  • In Shanghai Noon, when they finally decide to work together, Roy offers Wang a cowboy handshake, spitting on his hand before offering it. Wang, confused and a bit grossed, spits on Roy's hand before shaking it, rather than his own.
  • In the opening scene of Mädchen in Uniform, two female characters go for a handshake but somehow miss each other's hands repeatedly.

    Literature 
  • In My Enemy, My Ally, James T. Kirk tries to shake Ael t'Rllaillieu's hand on their first meeting and is informed that among the Romulans, holding hands is considered a display of affection on the level of a Big Damn Kiss. Given a Call-Back at the end of The Empty Chair when, before parting for the last time, Kirk and Ael first hold hands, then kiss.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Friends:
    • This happens to Ross and Mike when they meet just before the rehearsal dinner for Mike and Phoebe's wedding. Mike embraces Ross, during which Ross awkwardly says he was going for a handshake. Mike asks him if that's why his hand is currently pressed against Mike's crotch.
    • A variant occurs in an episode in which Rachel is interviewing for a job at Ralph Lauren. At the end of the interview, the interviewer says goodbye and embraces her. Taken aback by this, she impulsively pecks him on the cheek. Comic misunderstandings ensue.
  • In one episode of Modern Life Is Goodish, Dave Gorman discusses meeting the martial artist Alex Reid and extending his hand for a handshake, only to be offered a fist-bump in return. He jokes that in his head, he was actually playing a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, which he won.
  • Played for Drama in the backstory of Babylon 5. At First Contact between the Earth Alliance and the Minbari Federation a Minbari force approached an EarthForce flotilla with their gunports open, which the Minbari warrior caste considers a gesture of respect. Dukhat, the Minbari head of state, realized what this would look like seconds before the human ships opened fire in (they thought) self-defense. The result was the Earth-Minbari War.
  • Community has a UST-filled moment where Jeff and Annie alternate trying to hug while the other goes for a handshake, until Jeff decides to pat her head.
  • In Cory in the House, Cory has angered Meena's father and asks Newt to teach him the proper Bahavian greeting gestures to get on his good side. Unfortunately, Newt confuses "Bahavia" with "Bahamas".
  • M*A*S*H: In "The Nurses", one Sergeant Tony Baker drops in at the 4077th, where his newly wedded wife is a nurse. Baker steps into Radar's office and proceeds to introduce and greet himself by sticking out his hand for handshake, which Radar confuses for a salute. The two briefly try to figure out what to do, but just shrug it off.
  • Used a few times in The Big Bang Theory by Sheldon:
    • At one point, Leonard tries to give him a fist bump. Sheldon just kind of looks Leonard's fist before grabbing it and turning it into awkward fist bump/handshake combo.
    • In another episode Sheldon assumes that because Mrs. Davis is black she'll want to do an elaborate school yard handshake with him instead of shaking hands normally. She just looks at him after he finishes jumping around and says "I'm going to pretend that didn't happen".
    • Barry Kripke attempted a fist bump with Sheldon who just grabbed his fist and shook it awkwardly.
  • In 2012, David Letterman took to fist bumping some of his guests, specifically the "exploding" variety. Most of the time his guests are confused - often thinking he's going for a traditional handshake - but every once in a while someone (who has probably been prepped beforehand, or is a regular viewer) joins in on both the bump and the explosion, at which point Dave is both impressed and amused.
  • CSI: Cyber:
    • A variation in "The Evil Twin" when Krumitz and Brody make a breakthrough and try to congratulate each other. Krumitz goes for a high five, Brody goes for a fist bump, and they decide to compromise. Averted in "Selfie 2.0" as they exchange side-fives thrice, and then doing a groove upon celebrating running down all the names of the abducted women.
    • In "Ghost in the Machine", Brody and Sifter finally end up just briefly embracing after a series of confused congratulatory gestures. Contrasting with this is Krumitz's easy high-five with Brody moments earlier.
  • Sometimes happens in the various Star Trek series whenever our heroes meet an alien race that hasn't developed the handshake. One of the most famous examples is towards the end of the film Star Trek: First Contact, with the Vulcan-Human first contact. The Vulcan emerges from the spaceship, says to Zefram Cochrane "live long and prosper" and makes the famous traditional Vulcan gesture that all fans of the series are familiar with. Cochrane attempts it, finds he's unable to move his fingers in the necessary waynote  and extends his hand for a handshake, though the Vulcan just sort of takes it in an embrace. In Star Trek: Enterprise, when they did the Mirror Universe, Cochrane acts as if he's attempting the gesture, only to then pull out a weapon and blast the Vulcan.
  • Deliberately invoked by Todd on Stargate Atlantis. Todd is a Wraith, who feed on human life energy through their palms. When brought to Atlantis (under heavy guard) for some Teeth-Clenched Teamwork, Todd says "I believe among your people it is customary to shake hands" and extends his toward Dr. Weir, causing everyone to immediately raise their weapons. Todd laughs and says "Just a bit of Wraith humor."
  • In one episode of Scrubs, Turk holds his hand out for a fist-bump from Ted. Ted first thinks Turk is going to punch him, then high-fives it.

    Radio 
  • A John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme episode started with characters at a party not sure if they should kiss hello once or twice, before turning into a Public Service Announcement with John announcing "People of Britain! CAN WE GET THIS SORTED OUT?!"

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • In Scandinavia and the World, Turkey is embarrassed when he tries to talk to France after she's kissed him on both cheeks, not realizing that a French greeting has three kisses, unlike a Turkish one. The Scandinavians don't see what the big deal is until Turkey compares it to one person attempting a handshake and the other a fist-bump, at which they're suitably horrified.
  • Downplayed in Leftover Soup: when Jamie meets Wallace, he goes for a fistbump when Wallace initiates a handshake. Wallace points out that Jamie doesn't have to fistbump just because Wallace is black, but as Jamie points out, Wallace was trying to shake his right hand, which was still in a cast at the time.

    Web Original 
  • On Urban Dictionary this is referred to as a braux pas.
  • Welcome To Sanditon has a moment where Tom Parker, an older politician, didn't understand what younger Beau Griffith was doing with a bro fist and wound up shaking his fist.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Simpsons episode "Replaceable You", when Bart and Martin win the science fair, Bart offers Martin a fist bump, but Martin misinterprets it and kisses his fist instead.
  • In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy episode "Dream Mutt", when Billy meets his dream dog, Wiggy Jiggy Jed, he offers Billy a handshake but Billy gives him a high-five instead.
  • In the Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends episode "I Only Have Surprise for You", when Mr. Herriman's back-up team to set up a birthday party that Mac is trying to prevent succeeds in their mission, the back-up team leader offers Mr. Herriman a high-five but Mr. Herriman shakes his hand while his hand is still in the air for the high-five.
  • In Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, when Harvey meets with Apache Chief, Chief moves to shake Harvey's hand... which Harvey turns into an overly elaborate awkward... thing... in an attempt to seem spiritual to Chief.
  • In Regular Show, season 4, "Every Meat Burritos", when High-Five Ghost and his older brother, Low-Five Ghost, tries to give each other five, they completely miss each other due to the type of fives they give.
  • In We Bare Bears, in "Chloe", when Grizzly asks for a high-five from Ice Bear, Ice Bear responds by tapping his head on Grizzly's hand.
  • In Samurai Jack, Jack is a man from ancient Japan who is flung to the distant future. At one point, he is offered a hi-five and doesn't understand until the end of the episode.
  • In Rocket Power, Sam offers Oliver a hi-five, but when he holds his hand up, Oliver thinks he was trying to hit him.
  • In the Star vs. the Forces of Evil episode "Girls' Day Out", Janna offers Star a fist bump, but Star shakes her fist instead. Star does the same thing to Marco and Oskar in "Starcrushed".
  • In The Fairly OddParents!, Timmy once persuades Cosmo and Wanda to pose as his parents for a parent-teacher conference. When Mr. Crocker offers Wanda a handshake, she gets confused and judo-throws him.

    Real Life 
  • Very much Truth in Television, even among people from the same culture.
  • Erma Bombeck stated that she never got the hang of how to greet people.
    When I think someone's a shaker, he's invariably a hugger and I wind up with my arms stuck to my sides like a mummy that's just fallen out of its sarcophagus.
  • Michael Moore once recounted an anecdote in which he met Bob Dole for the first time, and unthinkingly held out his right hand in order to shake hands, forgetting that Dole had lost the use of his right hand following a war injury. Moore hurriedly retracted his right hand and offered his left instead, which Dole accepted.
  • This gif of John Mayer meeting Kanye West (which is actually a deliberate joke about white guys awkwardly meeting black guys).
  • Narrowly averted when Bill Maher interviewed Snoop Dogg.
  • This can happen fairly easily when people from certain countries in the Mediterranean and Latin America meet each other. You see, it's pretty common in both regions for people to greet each other with a handshake plus a sort of air-kiss where you sort of bump cheeks and do the kiss thing with your lips but don't quite kiss the other person's cheek. This is not considered sexual, familial, or even particularly affectionate; it's just how people say hello. The problem is that while in most countries that do this, they do more than one kiss, beyond that there's no consistency. Some places do two kisses, others thee, a few even do four. Thus when people from countries with different customs meet, you often either end up with one person feeling the other one was rude or shy for giving an insufficient number of kisses, or with someone feeling put out by the excessive kissiness of their counterpart.

Alternative Title(s): Awkward Handshake

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GreetingGestureConfusion