You can “click,” or make it “explode”

Liberia could be the only country with a national handshake.

Together Liberia project director Ken Harper “makes it explode” with some pint-sized Liberian friends. PHOTO BY STEVE DAVIS

The greeting actually can be a whole series of moves after the shakers lock hands, or it can be a simple, vanilla shake, as long as it ends with the distinctive “click,” where the shaking parties grasp the tips of each other’s middle fingers and snap.

The best shakers can produce an arresting click, audible across a room. The worst? Silence. A complete misfire. Epic failure. This befalls many rookies visiting the country for the first time. It can take awhile to get it. And on a hot day (that’s pretty much every day), it’s hard to muster adequate friction between sweaty parties.

The locals are very sympathetic to Westerners who haven’t mastered this. They appreciate our effort. However, we can be merciless with each other. Prepare to be razzed if you blow it. When a large group of us meets a native Liberian, all ears are tuned to the “click,” to who got it and who didn’t. There are repercussions for failure.

Project leader Ken Harper is theMaster Clicker; he’s visited Liberia a number of times and he’s had a lot of practice. He’ll pull your finger right from the socket.

The project team is actually spreading its own signature shake: The basic fist bump that finishes off with each fist “exploding” out, fingers extended.

The kids love it, and adults are warming to it as well.

Watch for it on the streets of Liberia.


About Steve Davis

I am an associate professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.