Fist bumps and kisses | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Fist bumps and kisses

/ 04:50 AM January 10, 2020

At a recent Malacañang picture-taking session, someone in the group, or maybe it was the photographer, called for a fist bump. Everyone but the President gamely took up the gesture and smiled broadly. When nobody picked up the cue, the President expressed his displeasure by tapping the fist of the person next to him, telling everyone else to desist.

The origins of the fist bump are many: Is it the gesture boxers do at the beginning of a fight when they touch gloves as a sign of sportsmanship and fair play, or is it the Black Power Salute modified to skirt the ban on its use in the US military? What is the correct term—fist bump or fist pump? Was the gesture an alternate to the “high five,” which has two or more athletes tapping their palms together in joy or celebration? It is said that to avoid accidental injury to their fingers, the athletes closed their hands into a fist instead and tapped their knuckles together, in what has been termed the “closed-fist high five.” Can you have a fist with an open hand?


The Duterte fist bump is worth a doctoral dissertation and involves a lot of visual research. Former US President Barack Obama had a reputation as a “cool” guy, sometimes greeting people with a fist bump instead of a handshake. Or maybe Obama was just being practical, fist bumps, after all, are more sanitary than handshakes. Two medical journals state that handshakes expose more skin and spread more germs than fist bumps.

Door knobs also carry germs, prompting many hospitals to replace doorknobs with sensor-driven doors or those that open at the push of a button, thus limiting contamination to the tip of the index finger rather than a whole hand. Fear of germs explains why many people now press elevator buttons with their knuckles instead of the index finger.


Bowing like the Japanese do may very well be the safest no-contact greeting, but that obscures a deeper cultural context. In medieval times, a handshake was a gesture of peace and trust, because an extended open hand cannot wield a weapon. But, couldn’t one use the handshake to pull an opponent closer, lock him in and stab him with a dagger using the free hand? Is this is why some cultures clasp both hands, or reach out and hold the arms in an affectionate gesture that is but half of a full embrace?

Should the Pope use a fist bump to avoid getting tugged at roughly by enthusiastic people? In Cory Aquino’s memoirs, she narrated how tired she would be after a day of campaigning, and how she was advised never to extend her hands to avoid being pulled and getting hurt in the process. She added that crowds of people wanted to touch her, and that led to some awkward instances, like people touching her legs as she went up a stage.

Touching is one thing, kissing is another. Burt Bacharach’s popular song put it bluntly: “What do you get when you kiss a guy/girl? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia.” Traditionalists criticized the Pope for pulling his hand back from the devout woman intent to kiss his ring; they claimed he threw out a centuries-old gesture of respect, because the papal ring is a symbol of his authority. Defenders replied that the Pope dispensed with this gesture of submission and preferred one of openness and equality. Well, hygiene is the main reason for this; a throng kissing the Pope’s hand is a sure way to spread illness.

Protocol officers during the term of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo reminded visitors not to kiss the President unless she initiated it. And if you think kissing one cheek is bad, the so-called “beso-beso” exposes both cheeks to germs. An “air kiss” that does not involve an actual lip-to-cheek kiss is a better option, being just a motion of kissing with cheeks hardly even touching. I remember a distinct kind of kissing I had as a child from doting aunts, who would audibly sniff you cheek to cheek. I don’t know the Spanish or Filipino term for this unique “air kiss.”

A movie star, celebrity or politician’s popularity is measured by the way crowds treat them. Selfies and autographs are standard, but when mobs want to kiss or touch them, they have joined the likes of the Nazareno de Quiapo, the Santo Niño de Cebu, and the many venerated images of the Virgin Mary around the country that have become objects of veneration.


Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Barack Obama, malacanang, President Duterte
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