Introduction: Shoulder Tap to Win Friends and Influence People - an Arab American Improvised Greeting

About: Bilal Ghalib is interested in doing things that surprise him and inspire others. Let's create a future we want to live in together.
Greetings come in many flavors and styles. But have you really considered the affects your greetings have on others? Does your hello forge connections? Do you leave a lasting impression? Or do your conversations end after a tentative handshake?

I've developed a greeting that has over time become a hallmark of getting to know me. It's derived from the African American Hip Hop Hug and Arab hugs and kisses evolved in an American context. With an emphasis on touch and interaction I call it the Shoulder Tap. After years of being shrouded in mystery I am revealing the secret  history behind this powerful hand shake, the methods of properly executing a Shoulder Tap, tips and tricks and the motivations behind this incredible social door opener.

This video includes some video of me shoulder tapping various people in a variety of positions and excitement levels. The last shot is of me shoulder tapping Carl Bass the CEO of Autodesk, he seemed to take it well!

I hope this Instructable encourages you to consider the way touch, body language, and other nonvocal communication you employ affect people around you and the situations you get in. Good luck with being awesome! Here we go!

Step 1: Shoulder Tap Evolution - Arab American Hip Hop Hug

Shoulder tapping originates with the intersection of Arab culture and the African American culture in Metro Detroit especially Dearborn. Without delving too deeply into the sociology of the situation let's observe that Dearborn experienced an influx of immigrent Arabs coming into contact with the Hip Hop culture of the Detroit area. This produced a new hybrid of "Arab Gangstas". These are affiliated with, but not a complete subclass of Arab Hip Hop culture.

If you're from Dearborn, you know the type I'm talking about. Sure there's the real mafioso's like the late Ghadaffi, a real gangster in the most awful of ways. But the ones I'm talking about have lined up haircuts, pretend to be in gangs, and have loud rap music pumping from their hooked up Honda Civics. This isn't to belittle or undermine the importance of the resonance that comes from two oppressed communities finding a common language in rap music, speaking out against oppression and... dark shades in clubs.

This combination of cultures has brought forth some arabic hip hop. An example of which is Qusai
For those of you who don't understand the arabic rap part of this song. Let me tell you his arabic is flawless, sounds like poetry and is very classical. That's what you get when you have a background from Saudi Arabia I guess :D

And also extends into greetings. The Hip Hop culture's "pound hug" is also known as:
pound hug
pound shake
one-armed hug
dude hug
homie hug
hetero hug
bro hug
thug hug
hip-hop hug
Luckily for me there is an awesome video which breaks down the hip hop hug into it's various categories:

Scroll to 0:38 to see the classic example of the hip hop hug.

Pay attention to two facts of the hip hop hug:
1) It starts with a grabbing of each others thumb, not a standard handshake. This is to facilitate pulling your partner in for the hug.
2) They follow through by pulling each other closer, and following through with a one handed hug and one to two taps on the back.

Encountering these hugs growing up in Michigan I was a frequent recipient and originator of the HHH (hip hop hug). Let's now move look into understanding what touch based greetings look like in other cultures, specifically how Arab hand holding, hugging and kissing probably led to the ease of adoption of the Hip Hop Hug.

Step 2: Greetings Across Cultures - How the Shoulder Tap Acts As a Bridge

Surprise! American's are a bit reserved when it comes to touch! A handshake can be considered a foray into the others intimate space, popping that personal bubble. While in Italy a hug might be considered appropriate amongst friends, while two men kissing cheeks is considered an awesome thing to do in the middle east.

Two people of the same gender holding hands may bring up many layers of meaning in the US, in other places it's simply considered a way to connect while walking and talking. But we should recognize that walking and holding hands is bonding and has it's place as a meaningful way of communicating throughout history and cultures. It's just not easy to pull off naturally in Nebraska.

I am an Arab American and as a culture Arabs are far touchier with our greetings and our interactions. Have you ever been in a line and had an Arab dude breath down your neck? That's because we have no real consideration of personal space (as long as you're the same gender). Being an Arab American made it much easier to incorporate the BroGrab into my life. But it was a bit odd to be in Dubai and notice Arab men eskimo kissing each other, complete with lip smacking. I asked about this, and it turns out the standard cheek kiss I grew up with as a greeting is reserved for people close to you. The nose kiss thing is for new friends. Whoa.

There are issues with touch greetings. How do you know how to respond when you are either in another culture, or in between cultures (like me)? Linn Katarina Grubbström had that very issue as a Swiss national living in Denmark. Her questionare and solution to the greeting sheds some light on the complications that arise from mixed cultural greetings.  Tip, you'll see that she compromised between the cheek kiss and the full hug with a one armed head to the side awkward hug. Awkward is not something you should be shooting for in your greetings. If you're going to go for a greeting, GO FULL ON ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE SKY.

Growing up I had to grapple with the hugs my friends wanted to give me, especially since being raised in a muslim house the concept of a girl hugging me was not acceptable. Conversely the hugging and cheek kissing of Arabs weren't acceptable for many of the guys and girls around me. Also I had my own desire to break barriers and connect with people in a novel way. The Hip Hop Hug was good, but I didn't feel the connection with the rest of the culture. What developed from these multidimensional pressures was the Shoulder Tap. It combines the hug my friends want, with the distance I felt comfortable with giving women hugs. It really opens people up to new conversations, takes the Hip Hop Hug and makes it my own all while breaking the touch barrier.

But what's the point? Why not just shake hands? Let's go through and study some touch history!

Step 3: Uncomfortable Scenarios - a Short History of Touch, Hand Holding

With a keen eye for diplomacy President Bush did something that connected him with the middle east, but shocked the nation. The streets of America were buzzing with confusion when he held hands with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. Here is a comment from that day that alludes to what many Americans may have been thinking:

"I mean I'd love to meet the president, but I'm not going to walk around holding his hand," says one wag in New York's Times Square. "I'm not that kind of guy, know what I'm saying." -CBS NEWS

I do know what you're saying good sir. 

This type of man to man affection has also surprised many US soliders going over seas to fight "terrorists" and finding people there holding hands and kissing. This culture shock is clearly displayed on Keith C. Jackson's Blog. His photo is included in this step.

The modern American "pleasedon'ttouchmenothanks" attitude has not been with us forever. Check out this image from 1860 which shows two dudes holding hands posing for a portrait. I'll get to the philosophy of holding hands later. For now let's dive further into history.

The last two images I want to share with you are one of a skeleton couple holding hands (in death) for 1500 years. Yeah, that couple really demonstrates what physical intimacy means for staying together ;). The last image I'd like to show you is of two egyptians holding hands over 2000 years ago. We don't really have true to life pictorial images, but this drawing demonstrates a common thread of humanity that we all share. We long for touch.

Let's now think more deeply about touch and it's impact on our lives.

Step 4: Touch Is Awesome and Shoulder Taps Can Be the First Steps to Closeness

Let's start off with this experiment. Go to and look up the word solidarity. What do you notice? Solidarity is represented by hand holding and touch. We've seen emotionally charged images from Egypt where Christians linked arms to protect Muslims as they prayed and it brought to mind the images of MLK marching arm in arm down from Selma to Montgomery to protest lack of voting rights.

Touch is the first sense developed in the womb and also is considered the last to leave when you die, although I can not confirm this with any of the dead people I know. Touch is the only sense we share with almost all living creatures, touch a worm and it will writhe with pleasure or pain, depending on the toucher's technique. The fact that naked mole rats and I experience a similar sensation really grounds me and connects me all of life on earth. 

We say that we really need to get in "touch" when we are feeling "disconnected". These are linguistic clues that are alluding to our deep relationships between touch and emotions. To sooth a child we carry them. Teams which touch more perform better. Even the word we have for our emotions is "feelings". Think about it, how do you feel right now?

Our own president has been referred to as the "Hugger in Chief" and earlier on as a more optimistic president he had during one meeting given out more than 9 hugs. What do you think he was saying with those brograbs? Amazing! It seems like more people are becoming more open to hugging and other forms of haptic communication.

"Studies have found that: "a sympathetic touch from a doctor leaves people with the impression that the visit lasted twice as long" is just one example of the impact of our first and universal language (touch) that can be found in this awesome New York Times article.

Paul Bach-Y-Rita is a pioneer of haptic and tactile digital communication. And each year we see more research focusing on touch as a communicative and emotional sense both between people and between people and machines. For instance Tangible Media at the Media Lab has developed a touchable digital surface called Relief. Another use of technology to bridge the distance between people that is found with normal telepresence technologies (like skype) can be found with this research paper: HugMe: An Interpersonal Haptic Communication System

Have you thought about how important touch is to you in your every day life? It's a method of communication, emotional load sharing, inspiration and healing. I hope the Shoulder Tap I've shared with you helps you break the barriers between people, and affords you a moment to stop and think about how touch is a part of your life. Because I assure you it is.

Now onto the tap!

Step 5: How to Shoulder Tap

  1. Prepare for the shoulder tap by making eye contact with your partner
  2. Raise one arm with your fingers pointing outward towards the shoulder tapee. 
  3. Through a high five motion grab the other persons thumb and begin pulling them close, you should start drawing the knee opposite the tapping shoulder up.
  4. Put your hand on the shoulder you intend to tap. Use it to draw yourself in. Aim shoulder to shoulder, avoid a hug, many people turn their bodies so you wind up connecting with sternums, this is not good.
  5. Your shoulders should make contact. If done properly the momentum of the pull in should provide a nice bump backward which you should use to disengage. This keeps the shoulder tap to a minimum amount of contact time and avoids any awkwardness. A good tap is over almost as soon as it starts.
  6. When you pull away, grab the tips of your partners fingers and start to lean back.
  7. When there is enough tension in your fingers to create a hardy snap, let go and pull backward
  8. Improvise, here you can snap your fingers, or shrug, be sure to say nice words and tell the person how you feel.

Advanced shoulder tapping! Greet someone, catch some air, be a force of nature!
If you are REALLY excited to see someone and are ready for the advanced shoulder tap try this:

  1. Follow steps 1 and 2 as above.
  2. This time, when you grab their hand to pull them in, pull faster and lean forward
  3. When you leg oposite the shoulder up push up to get some lieft.
  4. Use that momentum and the shoulder as a pivot to also kick the other leg up. At this point both legs should be off the ground. 
  5. Land laughing and make sure your partner was as excited as you were :)
The tap can be given from the side as well, please watch the video at the start of this instructable and notice the 4 scenes:
1) Classic tap, this is the ideal shoulder tapping situation and worked flawlessly
2) Converting a handshake into a shoulder tap. This one is a more advanced but works well. From the handshake, turn your body to have one shoulder inline with theirs. Let the handshake go, swivel and grab their thumbs. Pull them in sideways and bump in a line.
3) This video demonstrates an excited shoulder tap, notice how during shoulder to shoulder touchdown both my legs are off the floor at 0:09 in the video 
4) This scene is a shoulder tap gone awry. Notice the partner turning in for a hug and getting a shoulder in her chest. Avoid this with good eye contact, they will go with the flow.
5) This is another example of a handshake to shoulder tap. Carl Bass the CEO of auto desk has never shoulder tapped before, but you'll notice the motions are natural, almost expected and leaves him smiling. Keep smiling everyone!


Step 6: Shoulder Taps of Other Varieties

There seems to be a few other definitions of shoulder taps out there. So let's confirm
Shoulder Taps are not:

Step 7: Awesome Things & Credits

Things that I found interesting while researching:

The first time I ever saw the "Bro Grab" is in this awesome video!

Wiki Book on senses.

An australian man named Juan Mann started the Free Hug campaign, which is an amazing way to brighten up someone's day.

Taking it up a notch, Yu Tzu-wei wants to hug everyone in Taiwan.

How to hug in a professional environment ;D :


Muslims and Christians join hands!

Touch helps with sports:

Christians protecting muslims:

Christian Muslim Hand Holding:

Hip Hop Hug credit:

Camel Kissing:

Iraqi Soldier hand holding:

MLK Arm Linking:

Bush Abdulla hand holding issue:

Bush Obama hug:

Obama and Denzel: