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"Among Muslims, the left hand is reserved for bodily hygiene and considered unclean. Thus, the right hand should be used for eating. Shaking hands or handing over an item with one's left hand is considered an insult."

A common enough sentence in many guide books and on Wikipedia. However, being left-handed it's quite often very unnatural - you reach for food with your dominant hand, pass something with that hand, and ironically the right hand is often the one used for bodily hygiene among left-handers.

Indeed, in Uzbekistan I picked up an apple with my left hand to the horror of the locals I was with on a train ride, at which point one of them who didn't speak English graphically demonstrated that right hand is for eating and left hand is for ... elsewhere.

So, if you're left-handed, how do you deal with it? Tie a string around your hand? Just lots of practice? Or do you just not care, even if their insistence on the right hand can result in them unknowingly getting a hand that is the very one they were trying to avoid?


Source of the quote

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I'm interested in how people with only one arm are treated, especially if they only have a left arm/hand. – Stuart Oct 28 '11 at 14:30
@Stuart: Generally, in a Muslim country, the culture assumes that a person whose hand is missing has been punished by Allah, and they will be treated with (a sometimes completely unconscious) contempt. If it is the right hand that is missing, then clearly that punishment is intended to convey the shame and humiliated status of that person. – zenbike Oct 29 '11 at 9:07
up vote 16 down vote accepted

I just try to make a conscious effort to use only my right hand for most things when I'm in public places - paying for transportation fare or items in a market, eating in public restaurants, even pushing doors open. If you're mindful enough, you should be able to manage most of the time; if you forget once in a while, just correct yourself as soon as your realize what you're doing. I've never had anyone get seriously (at least, seriously in a way that was visible to me) upset with me if I accidentally used the wrong hand. A little bit of tension, but outrage is pretty rare in my experience. Still, I'd rather be ungraceful than rude. :)

It really is just practice, I think. I find it incredibly awkward to eat (with silverware or with my hands) using only or primarily my right hand, but a few years ago I spent a few months in India, and about halfway through I realized it was coming much more naturally. I didn't have to think about which hand I was using, and the coordination of performing those tasks was requiring less active thought. Still a little strange, and it sometimes extended mealtimes, but it got better.

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Also, on a related note but not really part of your question: I don't think it's ever really okay to "just not care" about things that other people might feel strongly about. When you travel, you're a guest in someone else's home, even if that home is on a country level rather than an individual house. So you should respect their feelings and customs. (Just my 2¢.) – Laura Oct 28 '11 at 13:40
For sure, I was just offering all suggestions. I try my best to do what the locals do, I just found it very difficult using the 'wrong' hand. – Mark Mayo Oct 28 '11 at 19:31
@MarkMayo my comment wasn't directed toward you, just anyone who may have potentially replied with the "I don't care, I do what I want" mentality. :) I also find using the "right" hand difficult most of the time, but I haven't found a technique that words for me other than concentrating really hard. I would love if someone else has a better way! – Laura Oct 28 '11 at 19:54

Shaking hands or handing over an item with one's left hand is considered an insult.

I think this is exaggeration!

I live in and visited many Muslim/East countries and it is not an insult/wrong to hand stuff with left hand. You might just met some extremist in this train, anyway I never went to Uzbekistan .

and by the way, I have never saw any one shaking hand using left hand, even left-handed people shake with their right hand, because this is the defacto standard.

But in these countries, you will notice that most of people eat with their right hand. Even left-handed people are used of it. But there are few people who eats with left hand and no one see it as wrong/bad/unhygienic.

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I don't think it's an exaggeration; I think that, like any behavior, it varies person to person and region to region. I've had merchants in India refuse to take money from me that I accidentally offered with my left hand. They didn't yell and scream and tell me how disgusting I was, just silently refused. shrug Totally depends on the person, I guess. – Laura Oct 28 '11 at 13:16
@LauraΨ, u r right :) – Yousf Oct 28 '11 at 14:41
I think that the reaction you receive also depends on how much exposure to a western culture that the community is used to. Make no mistake, it is deeply offensive. However, like most westerners have the ability to recognize when someone is being deliberately offensive, and when they are simply ignorant of the issue, most Muslims have the same ability. So if they have enough exposure to westerners to realize that it isn't intentional, they are far less likely to react, much less react in an extreme manner. Traveling in Dubai, for instance, is very different than traveling in Saudi Arabia. – zenbike Oct 29 '11 at 9:12

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