As we adapt to living with COVID-19 until we find a vaccine, some people have found curious ways of maintaining social distance. For countries where greeting another person is often done by a handshake, a hug, or a kiss, COVID-19 has brought some interesting challenges when meeting someone face to face.
In this context, the term elbump or ‘elbow bump’ has emerged to refer to a new way of greeting someone, where you touch someone’s elbow with your own to avoid spreading the virus through touching hands.
I grew up in Argentina, a country where you greet everyone with a kiss on the cheek, regardless of whether that person is a complete stranger or a close friend. Greeting someone with an elbump is a great way to solve that conundrum of being friendly and yet not passing on a disease. Many people have adopted elbumps in their daily lives: politicians are photographed doing it, local celebrities appear on TV doing elbow bumps, it’s become the new normal.
In England, however, I have yet to see someone greeting anyone with an elbump. I’ve now lived in England for a number of years and, as a foreigner, my impression is that there aren’t well-established social rules about greeting each other. You are probably on safe territory in a formal situation, as most people will attempt to shake hands the first time they meet you, although sometimes, they would just say hello without attempting any other physical gestures. But it’s in informal situations when things get tricky: to me it’s never clear when you shake hands, kiss, or hug someone. I will spare you the details on the number of occasions I’ve got the greetings wrong. Suffice to say I now simply say hi and smile. When in Rome…
You can begin to see why greeting someone with an elbow bump has not quite taken off in England, but don’t be put off by what looks like an aloof and distant attitude. People in England can be very friendly and welcoming, and they will greet you with a hug or a kiss once you get to know them … really well.
Greeting with an elbump might not be for everyone but I am amazed by how resourceful humans can be to express emotions. Wherever you live, I hope you have found a way to reconnect with your friends and families, regardless of how you greet them!
Virginia Mario is an Editor at Oxford University Press. Previously, she worked as an EFL Teacher in Argentina and France.