Right Hand, Left Hand

I am a westerner. There are no cultural issues related to the use of the right or left hand. You have two hands, why not use them both? India is like the Middle East, with its right hand/left hand rules. The left hand is the one that you clean yourself with after a bowel movement, so you use the right hand for everything else. Now I’m not really sure why the strict adherence to this rule is necessary when the “carefully use toilet paper and wash your hands thoroughly after each bathroom visit” rule makes it moot, but I am the foreigner here and I don’t think that it is my place to buck the norm.

This is where the fun comes in.

Things that you should NOT do with your left hand include:

  • Eating. In restaurants, people will lay their left hands in their laps and eat with their right hands only. It is almost as if everyone is suddenly an amputee.
  • Giving things to people. Never hand something to someone with your left hand. To do so is an insult. This includes money when you are paying for something.

Things that I do every single time with my left hand include:

  • Eating. I can’t tell you how often I’ve caught myself popping something into my mouth with my left hand. There seems to be a trick to tearing chapatti bread one handedly. I’ve yet to mater it and have to use two hands. Indians, ever gracious, pretend not to notice my barbarity.
  • Paying for things. I habitually hold my wallet with my right hand, fish through it with my left and hand the money over with the same. When I’m aware of what I’m doing, I hold my wallet with my left and do the fishing and giving with my right. I’m aware about 10% of the time. The rest of the time, I realize it just AFTER I handed the money to the rickshaw driver/waiter with my left. This is then followed by my profusely apologizing that I meant no offense and simple forgot the rule here. Indians, ever gracious, simply smile and to that head wobble thing.

I do wonder what they think as they drive away.


14 responses to “Right Hand, Left Hand

  1. So what happens to left handers in India? They have to eat/pay with their right hand even though it’s far easier to use their other hand?

    Carole from http://www.thelefthandedsite.com

  2. I have no idea, but they probably have considerable difficulty.

  3. Oh, great.
    So there’s one country in the world I (lefthanded) am sure never to want to live in. Imagine having to eat only using my right hand! I’d make an extreme mess…


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  5. hah, was looking for a place about Indian right-handedness to link to in a recent post and had written about the difficulty of tearing chapati before finding yours. touché.

    also you’ve been linked. i imagine you’re all done with india by now?

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  7. We have to respect each country’s culture and rules!
    For those who are left-handed, my answer is simple: either learn to use the other (right) hand or don’t go to countries that require using the right hand.

  8. I am pretty much sure that even a person is left-handed, they will be trained to use their right hand to eat and give when they are young, so in my opinion, most Indians should have no problem dealing with this.

  9. left handed people don’t worry and don’t listen to these people I have been to India and eat with my left hand. you guys are right India ‘s rule does not make sense don’t blindly listen to customs that encourage discrimination

  10. and just because it’s a custom and it has been around for thousands for years does not mean we blindly have to follow it. we are humans with brains not robots, right handers need their left hand as well. btw Ina i say this again i’ve eaten with my left hand and done everything with it in India nobody cares

  11. it’s our indian culture. Every country has it’s own traditions and rules to follow.

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  13. I am now right handed because I am unable to use my left hand. It is obviously..non-functioning. I have been to India several times. the looks I got when I’d extend my right hand to shake hands were amusing. The other person would look from my non functioning left hand to my extended right hand with a perplexed look on their face. I would just say”it’s ok, I use toilet paper”.

  14. Excuse me, left handed people do all the things with their left hand only in India. You are mistaken my friend

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