Texans value their space, firm handshakes

Give me land, lots of land under starry skies above. Don’t fence me in.” Roy Rogers’ 1944 hit says it all. We Texans like our space. When my husband and I lived in San Antonio, I had an elderly neighbor whom I was really fond of, but she liked to get right in my face when we talked. As a result, I would find myself backing away from her, but she would follow. It was probably a comical sight. You see, she was from New Jersey and I’m from here. We Texans prefer about three or four feet or more between us and the people we’re talking to as we are used to the wide open spaces.

There’s even a science that studies such behavior; it’s called proxemics. It deals with the use of human space and the effects that population density has on behavior, communication, and social interaction. Today, New Jersey averages 1,213 people per square mile and Texas 111 people per square mile. Back in the 1970s, when I knew my New Jersey neighbor, Texas had 43 people per square mile and New Jersey had 975. At the time, I just considered the neighbor rude, but now I understand. It has to do with what you’re used to.

One can see proxemics in action when you’re traveling down a country road in Texas. There will be two pick-ups parked on the side of the road with two old ranchers standing by their trucks, discussing cattle prices, the recent rains, or just “chewing the fat.” They may be standing anywhere from five to eight feet from one another. That’s their space.

We Texans also have unspoken greetings. When you’re driving down a country road, it’s only proper that you acknowledge an oncoming driver by lifting one or two fingers from the steering wheel as a way of saying “howdy.” If the other driver doesn’t respond, then he or she is probably not from the area. “Probably a Yankee,” you think to yourself.

The custom of tipping one’s hat to a lady has come and gone, but, today, even in the H-E-B parking lot, it is still nice to have a man nod his head to you and make eye contact as a way of saying “Good morning” or “Good afternoon.” With their eyes on their iPhone screens and their minds on other things, few young people acknowledge the presence of others, young or old, as they go about their daily routines.

When my husband, Arthur, and I were dating, he invited me to the annual Mandry Christmas party, an affair of at least 75 relatives. I was absolutely horrified to see that they all greeted each other with a kiss on the cheek or the mouth. I was not a kisser; my family hardly ever touched. Those Germans were a little too affectionate for me; I quickly learned to back away and offer my hand instead.

I am a hand shaker, not a hugger or kisser. Even though I am a woman, I extend my hand when I meet someone new or say good-bye. That’s the way I was brought up. The problem is that most women who shake hands don’t know how to do it properly. Many extend a limp, lifeless hand, somewhat comparable to a wet noodle or a dead squid. It’s even worse when a man has a lifeless handshake.

To me, a handshake tells a lot about one’s character. A firm handshake is not only a sign of respect, but it tells me that the person is strong and sincere. A weak handshake denotes weakness and insincerity. That may be an unfair assessment, but many people still judge others by that simple gesture. A firm handshake is essential to that first impression; it can land someone a job, launch a lasting friendship, or even impress a client or prospective in-laws.

Handshakes date back to the 5th century in Greece. It was a symbol of peace, showing that neither person was carrying a weapon. During the Roman era, it was actually more of an arm grab, mainly to prove that neither man had a knife hidden up his sleeve. Medieval knights shook hands vigorously in an attempt to shake loose any hidden weapons.

For younger Americans, the handshake is being replaced by the fist bump as some say it is less likely to spread germs. I will probably not adopt the fist bump in my lifetime as I am still an old-fashioned gal. My Texas roots run deep as well as those lessons taught to me by my parents and grandparents. If I see you coming, I will extend my hand.

Allene Mandry was born in Uvalde where she attended elementary school before moving to San Antonio. Now a retired teacher, she has a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Education from Trinity University. She spends her time doing genealogy research and giving presentations on genealogy. Mandry and her husband, Arthur, live on a ranch near Camp Verde.

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