WASHINGTON,D.C.—President Donald Trump apparently believes that in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic and his White House Coronavirus Task Force strongly recommending that shaking hands be avoided, the Indian ‘namaste’ or the Japanese half-bow greeting, may be the way to go until this deadly disease outbreak dissipates.
On March 12, Trump, in welcoming the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar—who is of Indian origin-- for the traditional annual visit of Ireland’s leader ahead of St. Patrick’s Day, after an initial hesitancy of avoiding the almost reflexive handshake, took the cue from Varadkar, bringing both his palms together for the ‘namaste’ greeting.
When reporters in the press pool who were ushered into the Oval Office for the usual photo-op that precedes the formal one-on-one meeting and the delegation-level talks, Trump responding to questions as to how he and Varadkar greeted each other, said, "We did not shake hands today. We looked at each other and said what we are going to do. You know, sort of a weird feeling.”
But when one reporter pointedly asked if they shook hands, the U.S. President, a self-confessed germophobe, who doesn’t necessarily like to shake hands, a smiling Varadkar immediately brought his palms together in the 'namaste' pose, and Trump followed suit.
And, then, as to be expected, this triggered another recollection by Trump of his recent visit to India.
"I just got back from India. And I did not shake any hands there. And it's very easy, because they go like this," he said, and demonstrated the 'namaste' pose for a second time.
Trump also then went on to show the Japanese way of greeting, saying while bowing of head, “Japan goes like this this,” and declaring to laughter, "They (India and Japan) were ahead of the curve,’ even as he said bowing and 'namaste' gave him a “strange” feeling.
"I have never been a big hand-shaker, you probably heard. But once you become a politician, shaking hands is very normal. It's a very strange feeling when people walk up and say 'Hi'," he said.
Varadkar for his part, opined, "It almost feels impersonal or feels like you're being rude, but we just can't afford to think like that for the next few weeks," because of the coronavirus.
However, during his 36-hour trip to India, Trump was frequently seen shaking hands and returning the hugs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and also shaking hands with all of the Indian officials both in Ahmedabad, Agra and in New Delhi.
And, even after members of his Task Force and healthcare experts, even since the coronavirus began unraveling in the U.S. have been calling on the American public to avoid handshakes, Trump had no compunctions about shaking hands with all and sundry.
Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called on Israelis to replace handshakes with the ‘namaste’ greeting to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“Just avoid shaking hands as I do,” he said, and suggested that “you can try to implement the Indian system of ‘namaste’ or say another word like ‘shalom.’ But find a way, any way, of not shaking hands.” And, this was followed by Netanyahu demonstrating how to do the ‘namaste’ pose.