Tag Archives: promises

Spit Handshake Promise


This piece is collected in a casual interview setting around a cup of coffee. My informant (BA) was born in Lille, France, and moved to California in 2002 with her husband for their jobs at Caltech. She has a Master in Human Resources and Detection of High Potentials, is a mother of two teenage girls, loves to garden and go on hikes, and is overall a very energetic and happy woman. 

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant (BA) and interviewer.

Interviewer: How do you keep an important promise?

BA: Ah, so, when you want to keep your promise, the best way to do it is to spit on the ground or to spit in your hand before a handshake. And if you spit, its already so gutsy that its sure that you’ll keep it [the promise].

Interviewer: And you do this with what kind of people, your friends or with anyone?

BA: Ah, no, I only do it with my friends. I can’t do it with people from my work or people for who I have high respect. It’s only with people from my family or my friends.

Interviewer: And where did you learn this from?

BA: Everyone around me did it growing up, so I just picked it up. I still do it to this day. It’s how I keep my promises.


In many cultures, spitting on your hands represents cleaning them, therefore spitting before a handshake is like making a “clean deal” or a “clean promise” that you will not soil. With our hygiene standards rising, I am not certain this practice will continue. The thought of spit being “clean” is not common today, therefore the meaning behind spitting on a handshake might be lost with time. Personally, I would politely refuse if someone offered to do this with me. I would rather a clean Pinky Swear.