The Dutch Prime Minister has told the public “today we stop shaking hands” in a bid to limit the spread of coronavirus, before shaking hands with a medical advisor on national television and immediately realising his mistake.
Speaking at a joint press conference with a top medical advisor on the spread of coronavirus, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it was not necessary for the country to take major steps like banning public gatherings or closing schools — as has already happened in Italy — but that smaller changes in behaviour were needed. To this end, the Prime Minister said “this is a problem for all of us” and told the nation “today we stop shaking hands”, reports Dutch news site NU.
This is the moment the Dutch PM, Mark Rutte, ended a press conference by shaking hands with a colleague – moments after warning the public against doing so amid the #coronavirus outbreak.
— ITV News (@itvnews) March 10, 2020
Having lectured dutch citizens on taking good “general hygiene measures” and the importance of substituting the typical hand-shake for a lower-contact method of greeting, PM Rutte immediately turned to greet medical expert Jaap van Dissel, shaking him by the hand.
Realising his mistake, the Dutch Prime Minister apologised to the director of the Dutch public health body, and shouted out: “Sorry sorry! We can’t do that anymore! Do it again!”.
The two men then bumped elbows. PM Rutte then, somewhat paradoxically, laughed off his mistake by placing his arm around the academic’s neck and walking him off stage, exactly the kind of close physical contact the press conference was meant to discourage.
Personal greetings tend to be more intimate in many parts of Europe than they had traditionally been in the United Kingdom and the United States. In France, it is common to kiss even casual acquaintances in greeting, but the nation’s health minister has now advised against the practice as concern about coronavirus spreads.
In Switzerland, handshaking is such a part of the culture, even children shake the hands of their teachers daily in greeting. This has caused some controversy in the past as the arrival of increadingly large numbers of migrants from cultures where shaking hands is not the norm has seen instances where offence has been caused.
Breitbart London reported in 2016 over outrage surrounding two Muslim-faith children who refused to shake the hands of their teacher of a different gender, following from gender-segregation norms from the home culture of the boys. A school board subsequently ordered that children had to shake hands with their teachers as a mark of respect, whether they liked it or not.
In 2018, a Muslim migrant couple were denied citizenship of the country because they refused to shake hands with members of the opposite sex, an act seen as a baseline of integration with Swiss culture. Similar cases have also developed in France and Denmark.