In a handwritten letter (dated 1864), the writer (in U. S.) tells his wife (in Europe) to go see Monsieur X and, while there, to have him please "recevoir ... ma cordiale poignée de main." I am fairly well versed in the more current forms of French politesse (veuillez accepter, cher monsieur, l'expression de mes sentiments ...), but I am quite unsure how to render this one into modern English. Surely I don't literally translate it? "Receive/Accept my cordial handshake." Just doesn't work for me. Am I missing something?

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    This question belongs on ell.stackexchange.com – jlliagre Apr 19 at 17:07
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    My apologies. I did read the Posting Rules, but did not realize I needed to post my question there. (I am a native English speaker.) – JHctT1858 Apr 19 at 17:21
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    No problem. Your question would have been on topic if asking for a more modern equivalent to cordiale poignée de main in French. I think it might still be usable nowadays though, provided it's not in an SMS :-) – jlliagre Apr 19 at 19:46

My answer covers the meaning of this expression, including its social connotations. How to express the in English is off-topic on this site, and there isn't enough context in the question anyway.

“Please have him receive my cordial handshake” is a correct literal translation. In other words, “please shake his hand on my behalf”. The cultural implication is “assure him that I am his friend”.

Depending on the exact culture involved (“in U.S.” and “in Europe” are not precise enough: where are the people from? Are they following their own customs or the customs of the places they're visiting?), a handshake may happen when you first meet someone (as in contemporary US), when you first encounter the person for the day (as in contemporary France), or some other variation. If you want to understand the subtext at this level of detail, you'll need to do more research on the specific situation.

In modern French, one does not send virtual handshakes through the mail. But this was done at the time. For example, in Les Usages du siècle by “Une Parisienne”, published in 1895, we findCordiale poignée de main” as one of many common closings for letters.

Here are a few examples of published letters using this expression:

As you can see from these examples, there is no particular implication in terms of social class.

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    My apologies for being context poor in my original question. Thank you for writing a better, more specific one on my behalf. "Please shake his hand on my behalf" is precisely what I was looking for. And I do appreciate the linked examples. And the Les Usages du siècle reference as well. I am working on a 2nd publication and cannot give too much detail, but to answer your question, the letter writer is a Francophone Belgian visiting the American southwest, his letter is written to his Francophone spouse, living in Belgium. They would both be following their home customs. – JHctT1858 Apr 19 at 21:13
  • Virtual handshakes shouldn't be completely ruled out: tu lui serreras la main de ma part, moreover, since last year, real handshakes essentially disappeared from the scene... – jlliagre Apr 19 at 22:58

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