I’m a left-handed voyager and proud of it. I enjoy the fact that left-handers are far and few between in our world; left-handers are rare and represent about 10% of the human population. Yet, I haven’t always enjoyed being left-handed.
As a kid at school, I always struggled using scissors. Everything I cut resulted in a mangled mess. Writing proved to be a challenge, too. Once I was awarded with my pen license, I discovered that my writing was reduced to smudging and smearing – both on the page and my hand. The cooking environment – whether kitchen or campfire – proved to be another battleground. You should see me try to open a can with a can opener! I use can-openers in a “backward” fashion, though I don’t like using this word to describe my technique. It was this perceived backwardness that led my mum to try and teach me to eat food with a fork using the “proper” hand as a child. Luckily, my left-handedness won out.
What I’ve discovered over the years is that left-handers haven’t always been looked upon favourably. Left-handers have been perceived as evil, impure or bad, as the word ‘left’ in some languages actually translates loosely to these words. In some cultures now, the left hand is used to complete some of daily life’s private routines – in particular, cleaning oneself after going to the toilet. As a result, it’s appalling etiquette to use the left hand when eating, serving food, shaking hands or handling money in parts of the world such as India, Nepal and countries in the Middle East and Africa.
While observing culture and local etiquette is an absolute must when I travel, left handers like me will encounter situations when using the left hand may be a no-no. As a keen, left-handed voyager, I thought I’d share with you my tips to ensure your left-handedness doesn’t get you into a spot of cultural bother. It may take a little getting used to, though an untrained right hand can get into the flow of a journey quite willingly.
Consider some endurance training before your journey
Have you ever tried to eat with your right hand as an adult? I find it as close to being a kid again as I will ever re-visit. My right hand is hopelessly uncoordinated and more food ends up on the table than in my mouth. Why not try eating a few meals with your right hand before you depart? Then that way, you can start to train your right hand and get into the spirit of using it more often.
Pick your moments during your travels
Using the right hand is exhausting at times and I’ve endured cramping during some dining situations. Rather than forcing yourself to eat right-handed at every meal while you’re abroad, perhaps pick those moments when you can sneak in a left-handed eating session. Those moments could be if you order room service at the hotel, or if you find yourself picnicking in a secluded area, or at a more urban location where the company you’re dining with may not mind or can guide you accordingly. Handling cash is another time to be mindful, too. Be guided by the local etiquette, whether handled by left, right or both. Same with shaking hands.
Embrace eating with your hand instead of a fork
I’m reminded of a quote during Rick Steves’ TED Talk about the value of travel which said that a third of the world’s population eat with chopsticks, a third eats with a knife and fork, and a third eats with the hand. If custom permits, eat with your right hand! Not only is it a fun way to embrace a local custom, you’re less likely to make an embarrassing mess all over the table and your face. If you find yourself in a food-serving situation, just make sure you serve food with your right hand using the utensils provided.
Think about the company you’re in when it comes to famous intrepid left-handers
If you do happen to get yourself into an embarrassing moment, just think about some famous left-handed travellers who have had to navigate their way through left-handed etiquette too, like actress and intrepid humanitarian Angelina Jolie. Exploring culture is a great way to learn about our world, and we can only learn from our mistakes once we admit to them apologetically and try our best to do as the locals do.
Have fun from a right-handed perspective!
Travel isn’t meant to be strenuous and stressful. Travel is a valuable way to learn, explore, broaden our perspective and nourish ourselves. Think of any right-handed moment as an opportunity to achieve all of the above (even if some of your food does land on your chin), have fun with it and bond with newfound, local friends. If anything, your sincere efforts will be looked upon with appreciation.
Do you have a tip for left-handed voyagers out there? Or, were you caught out in an embarrassing moment while on the road? I’d love to hear your travel tales.
If you’re keen to learn more about the evolution of left-handedness, then visit this short lecture from TED.
And, don’t forget to celebrate your left-handedness on World Left Handers Day on August 13 too!
Disclaimer: this post forms part of my entry into the Virgin Australia and ProBlogger Competition.