Egyptian Strangers Shaking Hands for the First Time

March 28, 2014 | Aymann Ismail

You’ve seen the fake viral video ad of strangers kissing for the first time, so here’s one that’s a little different. From Handmade Studios, here are young Egyptian strangers shaking hands with the opposite sex for the first time. For real.

“This is the first time I shake hands with a girl,” one young man says. Another asks a girl, “Are you boy phobic?” She responds, “No, I am disgusted.”

This short film transports the dynamics of that first instance of intimacy between strangers into a different cultural context — where women and men are strongly discouraged from socializing, religious doctrine bars casual physical contact, and women experience daily harassment in the streets. (96% of of Egyptian women surveyed by The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women have experienced a form of Sexual Harassment.)

When you’re not distracted by people tongue diving at each others’ faces, nuanced details of the interactions emerge — some women barely tap the mens’ fingers, drawings hands back immediately; others shake confidently and earnestly, taking the men aback a bit; some men hold the handshake a bit longer than is necessary, pushing the intimacy.

But mostly, it’s revealing of the tension and social injustice that persist in my home country. As an Egyptian raised in the Tristate, watching this video makes me uncomfortable and embarrassed, because these issues hit home. One man says,”We won’t bite.” The girl responds, “But you harass.” “Life is tough in Egypt because of the boys, the men,” says another woman. I hope everyone in Egypt watches this and thinks about how they can do better.