Handshakes are becoming my current worst social embarassment. A couple of months ago, at the temple Diwali festival, we met up with some acquaintances -- C & J -- who had come with their parents. The old man started a conversation with S and shook his hand. When he started talking to me, I raised my hand for a handshake. Oops. An embarassed pause followed. He smiled uncomfortably and just folded his hands in salutation. Maybe I should have just said 'Namaskaram'?!
A month later, I met a desi in his 30s at Kroger. This time, fresh from my handshaking faux pas last time, I just said 'Hi'. Oops again. The guy had already extended his hand for a handshake and my 'Hi' sounded like a snub! Ughh. Of course, in my embarassment, I hurriedly took his hand which made it seem like I was desperate to shake his hand (Thankfully, I am not single or this could've been construed as something else). The same thing happened with an American at work when I forgot to shake hands with him!
When Dr. Kalaam visited Lexington in March 2008, it was confusion galore for me! An American I had just met hugged me like I had known him for years. Another one shook my hand very enthusiastically. Young Indian guys shook hands with girls. Older Indian guys refrained from it. Middle-aged guys were in as much confusion as myself. Dr. Kalaam himself, I noticed, didn't shake women's hands. He just folded his hands.
Anyways, the point is, being caught in a social 'Trisanku sorgam' in the US, its difficult to keep all these various cultural permutations and combinations clear in my head. Until then, I guess I'll continue to be embarassed..