When my doorbell rang the other morning I whipped off my apron and dutifully went to open the door, hoping to find a neighbor with a plate of cookies or even a request for help, and not a salesman or proselytizer. Alas, it was a complete stranger, a man, holding some flyers.
He extended his hand for me to shake, and told me his name. I did not take his hand, because I don’t know a thing about him yet and we are not entering into an agreement or a social relationship. I am often this non-compliant at the front door, because I’m defensive about protecting my home territory. The threshold of our house is one place it seems important to resist those who want to be what seems to me over-familiar. I can be friendly without touching, can’t I?
Most people, on seeing that you do not want to shake their hand, will put theirs down. Not this man. He kept sticking his hand out at me, for what seemed like a minute but was in any case long enough to be very pushy and rude. Being a compliant person in all the wrong situations, I gave in and shook his hand. I was angry enough with myself afterward that it’s caused me to rehash the event and probably over-analyze it.
What do you think he wanted to sell me? He is starting a lending agency in town, and wants me to know about it and tell all my friends so that if we have to go into debt, he can be our creditor. This raises more questions about why he put so much importance on shaking hands – Was he unconsciously saying, “Shaking hands is what men of honor do, and I want you to believe I am trustworthy.” ? I would never borrow money from someone who is so unmannerly or obtuse that he would not defer to a woman at her own doorstep.
There is a point of etiquette I learned from Miss Manners some years ago about hand-shaking. Perhaps it doesn’t apply in business situations where women want in many ways to be treated just like men, but I don’t live in that world. The rule is, if a man and a woman are meeting, it is up to the woman to extend her hand first, if she wants to shake hands. The man should wait to see if she offers her hand; if she doesn’t, they don’t shake. It’s doubtful Mr. Moneylender reads Miss Manners, but really, even if a man extended his hand to another man, and he didn’t take it, would any sensible guy keep his out there waiting?
After my visitor departed, with me wishing him a friendly, “Good luck!” — See how compliant I am? — it occurred to me that with someone who is that bold, I should have been bold as well. I might have taken a moment to give him some tips on the proper and courteous way to behave if one is selling oneself door-to-door. Well, maybe next time…but I hope I never have the opportunity.