Need For Protocol On Greeting Female Civil Servants Who Refuse Handshake


I run a medical clinic and was visited by a Ministry of Health pharmacy inspection team of three officers, two men and a lady
The men warmly accepted my offer to shake hands, while the lady stood up, turned her head and immediately put her hand behind her back with her smile disappearing for a few brief seconds, leaving me wondering if I had offended her
While I understand she does not wish to shake hands for religious reasons, and is perfectly within her rights to do so, I am saddened that my gesture caused us both some embarrassment and discomfort
Shaking hands is a Western tradition, said to evolve from ancient times when men carried arms and you could never be sure if the person you met would pull up a knife to stab you
Extending the open hand shows that you have no weapons in the hand, and are coming for a friendly interaction with goodwill
Similarly, ancient Chinese clasp an open palm over a clenched fist to show that the interaction is friendly and not about exchanging fistfights. Japanese do not shake hands, but bow; the lower the bow, the more humble the status projected
Thais clasp the two open palms together in front of their chest, as in a prayer, in an easily understood universal friendly greeting
I write to request that the Protocol Division of the Ministry of Health, and the Public Service Commission set out what the proper greeting gesture should be to welcome Muslim female officers who choose not to shake hands
Making the public aware of such a clear set of protocols on friendly greeting gestures makes for harmonious interaction and avoids discomfort, embarrassment or misunderstanding in our multi-religious society
This will help foster more friendly and closer relations between civil servants and the public for the betterment of our country
Dr Ong Hean Teik is a consultant cardiologist. - FMT

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