As the weather starts cooling down, and cold and flu season starts warming up, an important question is raised: should I still shake hands with my fencing opponent after a bout if I am sick? Is it rude if I don’t? In a word, yes. It will be considered rude if you completely neglect this traditional piece of fencing etiquette. You can always make sure to wash your hands after a bout, or keep a bathtub of Purell nearby if you’re worried about catching germs from your opponent. But if you’re the one spreading the germs and you truly believe it would be irresponsible to offer up your ungloved hand, there are a few alternatives you can try.
One choice is to bump the forearm of your non-weapon hand. The casual fist-bump is another way to avoid contact with your bacteria-infested palm. Though if you just wiped your runny nose with the back of your hand, that one might backfire. Additionally, you can try the “mechanic’s handshake” of tapping elbows instead. It is critical if you choose any alternative to a traditional handshake to quickly explain it to your opponent so that they won’t feel slighted by the gesture. It is a sign of mutual respect to shake hands after a bout (not to mention it’s also a rule), and if you neglect to let them know you’re sick and trying to protect them, they can easily feel spurned and disrespected.
Despite these alternatives, in my opinion, if you’re well enough to be fencing, you’re probably well enough to shake the hand of your opponent. If you really are suffering from something awful that you would never wish on even your worst enemy, maybe you should sit this one out and work on getting better instead.