'I can relate to Obama’s cringe worthy handshake with Castro'

ELLE's Hannah Swerling knows all about awkward greetings

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Barack Obama is currently in Cuba, making him the first sitting US president to visit the country since the 1959 revolution.

His visit is a big deal yet this momentous occasion has been dramatically marred by what was possibly the most awkward handshake in history. Guys, what went wrong? Presumably you’ve both shaken hands before?

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A slightly lost looking Castro somehow ended up grasping Obama’s strangely limp arm. It’s the opposite of a handshake. It’s a desperate arm grab. But I get it. This wasn’t a perfunctory greeting before a board meeting. This was a major diplomatic event on the world stage so the pressure was on. But my god, did they buckle.

I have great sympathy for the inherent awkwardness that comes with such moments of social performance. I once kissed my gynecologist, after all. And the memory of it still makes me wince. Let me reluctantly tell you the story.

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There I was in the waiting room, mindlessly leafing through a copy of Take A Break from 1984 when I looked up to find my gynecologist ushering me in for my appointment. As I stood up, he appeared to be leaning in for what I inexplicably assumed was a kiss. So I reciprocated. Why? I’ll never know. Oh, the horror! It was only on the cheek (only!) but I instantly sensed my appalling mistake.

Thankfully, he generously let my gaffe go by without any suggestion of embarrassment or disgust on his part. The problem was, I then had to go through with the appointment which isn’t a picnic at the best of times.

My point is, social convention can be confusing and tricky to navigate. Handshake, air kiss, high-five, fist bump, hug? Who the hell knows what’s right or wrong anymore? Not the leader of the free world, that's for sure.

Granted, it’s never appropriate to kiss your healthcare professional but sometimes you get a little flustered in the moment and you just have to go with it.

Barack, Raul, I understand how you feel. If you need a cack-handed pat on the back, I’m here.

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