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Covering state lawmakers, bills, and policy emerging from Jefferson City.

High-Fives: The Official Way to Greet in Missouri?

Credit: Eric Schmuttemaer/Flickr

Around the turn of the 20th Century, the nickname Show-Me state was bestowed upon Missouri. And through the years, like so many other states, Missouri has compiled a rather interesting list of state designations. KSMU’s Scott Harvey tells us about the latest proposal that is turning heads.

In the halls of the Missouri state capitol in Jefferson City, one thing you’re bound to see a lot of is hand shaking. And around freshmen state representative Courtney Allen Curtis of St. Louis County, you may also see some high-fiving. After all, it’s his bill that aims to designate the expression as the official greeting of Missouri.

“The true intent of it is to promote bi-partisanship, but secondly, to engage the children,” Curtis said.

Due to his busy schedule, I was unable to witness this self-proclaimed high-fiver in action. But I wanted a sample of where Missourians stand on high five greetings. I set out to get reaction from the campus of Missouri State University in Springfield, where, understandably, my high-five greetings were met with a bit of awkwardness.  

There was the guy who probably thought a “hello” was enough from a complete stranger. But when I asked, “High five greeting?,” he did say yes, but his hesitantly raised hand screamed “why?” and I quickly slapped his palm before he had a chance to reconsider.

But for every dozen or so quizzical looks and limp-wristed responses there were what I call the empathic embracers, that despite my stranger status, reached up to make a strong hand-to-hand connection. Perhaps it’s the emphatic embraces that are ready to accept the high five as Missouri’s official state greeting.

Back in Jefferson City, Rep. Curtis tells me he recognizes that his bill does have its critics, mainly because it might suggest a waste of time and lack of focus on more pressing issues. But he says the bill does no such thing.

“I come from a district where we don’t have as many people engaged. So if this is a way for me to get people involved at a young age, hoping that they’ll stay engaged going forward, than it’s not a waste of time,” Curtis said.

The high five bill has been referred to the Missouri House Tourism and Natural Resources Committee, where at least one of its members is hoping that’s where it dies.

“I fought vigorously against the state dessert being ice cream,” Norr said.

That’s Democratic state representative Charlie Norr of Springfield, referring to a 2008 bill which won the approval of lawmakers, but not until after lengthy debate.

“Cuz that ice cream thing went on and on and on. Should it be in a cone? What flavor should it be? Should it have sprinkles?”

Norr suggests exercises intended to increase youth engagement in state government stay in the classroom and off the House and Senate floor.

But Rep. Curtis is optimistic that little things like the type of high five won’t warrant prolonged debate.

“I got a couple of low fives yesterday and I said, ‘that’s not what we do, that’s a Kansas thing,’ but you know,” Curtis said.

As for the art of high-fiving, should you choose to embrace, my awkward journey across the Missouri State campus taught me a valuable lesson in earning the best 10-finger slap. I was told that if you look at the elbow of the other person, you won’t miss. Curtis agrees, telling me he knows the method because he’s an “actual high-fiver.”

And sure enough, with an accurate elbow look, I finished my conversation with the Representative with a strong high-five.