In Muslim and some Asian cultures the left hand is considered unclean. It is used for sanitation purposes after urinating or defecating. The right hand is reserved for eating and social interactions. It is considered rude to use your left hand for these things.
In parts of Africa it is considered rude to point, gesture, receive things or give things with your left hand.
Through most cultures, being left handed has bad connotations. My husband was brought up in a Russian family and his father tried to make him right handed when he was clearly left handed. Since the majority of the world is right handed, it can be challenging for left handed people. My son is also left handed and although we did not try to re-teach him, he had trouble in school using simple things like scissors.
A group called Left Handers International designated August 13 as Left Handers Day. Their aim is to educate the world about the 10 percent of the population who have trouble living in a right handed world. Think about it – using a mouse or keyboard, power tools, driving, even writing with a pen can all be challenging for a left handed person.
In some cultures it is considered bad luck to be left handed or even to meet people who are left handed.
The other day I was buying something and I put my money on the counter. The clerk took the money and handed me the change. I had something in my right hand and it was an awkward process but I transferred everything from my right hand to my left hand so I could accept the change with my right hand. As I was doing it I thought, “why am I doing this?” The clerk had to wait and was patient but looked at me like I was a little weird.
At some point in my life it was ingrained into me never to hand anybody anything with my left hand and never to accept anything with my left hand. I just can’t do it. It feels very uncomfortable. I know most people in the US don’t care or understand why I do it. But I still do it.
Growing up as a Third Culture Kid, I never really identified with my home country. I celebrated the holidays of my host country or my school’s country. I grew up in Mexico City and went to a British school. I celebrated the Queen’s Birthday, and Mexico’s Independence day on the 16th of September, and of course the Day of the Dead. I didn’t feel nationalistic about anyplace but was happy to celebrate with everybody. I don’t ever remember celebrating the 4th of July although I do remember dressing up on Halloween a few times. I just didn’t have anything to identify with. I knew very little of US history and even less of its culture.
When I went to live in the US after high school, I was in for a rude awakening and had severe reverse culture shock. It wasn’t until my Junior year in college that I started to learn about the USA. I was living in Boston and a friend took me under wing and taught me about the history of the area and the people who lived there. For the first time I started to feel something for my home country.
The longer I stayed in my home country the more comfortable I became. As I moved from state to state I leaned new things about its diversity. I learned about the holidays and what they stood for. And I learned to criticize what I didn’t like about it.
I continued to travel outside the country with a slightly new perspective. I started to compare other countries to my own and see what the differences and similarities were. I started to appreciate things. I saw that compared to many countries, women in the US were much better off. I learned how important freedom of speech really was. Although this country had a lot of problems and I didn’t always agree with what our government did, I always had the right to express my dissatisfaction openly.
As I grew older, when living overseas, I could be very critical of the US and their foreign policy and many of their actions. But when Fourth of July came around, I always cried overcome by emotion when I heard the Star Spangled Banner.
One summer I was living in Ibadan, Nigeria, working for my father at an agricultural research institute. Ibadan was the largest village in Africa and sprawled across the countryside without any particular order. There were a few hotels and “proper” restaurants but not many and we rarely went to them.
My British and American friends, Simon, Ed, David, Francis, and a couple of others decided to have a night on the town. We went to a rooftop Lebanese restaurant for a filling dinner of kabob and hummus and then on to a proper Nigerian nightclub. It had a fence around it and a large grass roof and a dirt floor but no walls. There was a very loud band playing at one end of the room and an area to dance. We took over a table at the other end of the room and ordered beer all around.
Francis was being very protective of me and it kind of made it look like we were “together”. Francis was married with five children. A Nigerian came over to our table and asked Francis if he could dance with me. Francis, quite embarrassed, told him he would have to ask me himself. Of course he came right over asked me to dance. I had been in Nigeria long enough to know that this could only lead to trouble. I was getting ready to say no, thank you very much, when Simon started kicking me under the table and making gestures like I should really go have a dance. Simon, of course, was a trouble maker himself, but I got up and danced with the guy. Keeping in form with most of my other white American girl/ black African boy experiences, by the end of the dance he had asked me to marry him.
About half way through the evening I really had to go to the toilet. Everybody said I should just forget about it. I said, “no really, I gotta go”. So David escorted me to the ladies’ toilet. We went through a beaded doorway where women were just hanging around and inside there were two stalls with holes in the floor. There were no doors to the stalls. I went in and squatted and David stood guard. It wasn’t that terrible, partly I’m sure because I was a little tipsy by this time, but it was interesting. The women were obviously just waiting for business. I didn’t get a chance to look around but I assume there were other rooms in the back for other activities. David seemed very nervous about the whole thing and said I was not allowed to drink any more beer. I think David might have been back there before.
Back at the table my dance partner had re-appeared, apparently not finding any other takers for his marriage proposal. I was the only white girl in the place. He insisted that he would be a good husband and would have no problem accompanying me back to the United States. When we got up to go home, he said he could come with us. He had no plans for the night and was happy to stay with us. He followed us all the way out to the car and the guys acted like they were going to let him in. I was totally appalled. How could they be so mean? Finally they got tired of him and kicked him out.
Later that summer I had a stalker show up at my office. He knew who I was and all about me and said he worked in the building. I asked around but nobody seemed to know him. For a couple of weeks he was standing at my door at the end of the day and wanted to walk me home. I never led him on or agreed to anything. He kept asking to take me for a drink or to walk me home. Finally I said I would have a drink with him.
He said he wanted to marry me and he had it all planned out. We would be married and he would return to the United States with me and he would go to school with me and we would always be together. I told him politely all the reasons why it was just not possible, the least of which was that we did not know each other at all and I was leaving the country shortly. And he had a counter proposal for every one of my reasons. Finally I just became quite rude and told him to leave me alone.
I was sad to see the summer end but I was very happy to leave that situation behind when I returned to college in the fall. Nigerian women were very blunt and straight forward. They didn’t care if they hurt men’s feelings, they gave it to them like it was. I think Western women had difficulty being so cold about it and in turn perhaps were more approachable. On my next trip to Africa, I was much more Nigerian than Western when dealing with African men. Its all about adapting to new cultures.
I have updated my TCK/Expat page to include films as well as some additional books. Check it out.
I recently watched The Road Home. It is a short film – 24 minutes. I watched it twice. It is about a boy with Indian roots who has lived around the world. His father sends him to boarding school in India and everybody thinks he is Indian but he only speaks English and says he is English. So, confused about who he is, where he is from, not feeling Indian but looking Indian. Sound familiar to anybody?
The director is currently working on expanding the film into a longer version with plot twists and adventure. I think it might lose some of its intimate charm, but we will have to see. In the meantime, have a look. You can rent this film and watch it on-line here.
Another one that is currently airing at Film Festivals around the country is Shanghai Calling. I have watched the trailer and it looks like a good comedy. A man with Chinese roots who grew up in New York City finds himself sent to live in China for work. He knows nothing about Chinese culture or language but people think he does because he looks Chinese. I look forward to seeing it. You can see the trailer here.
Last week I was away spending some well deserved time alone with Husband, Son and Daughter. After the hectic and emotionally draining summer we’ve had, it was nice to enjoy the sun, surf and sand on Captiva Island in southern Florida.
It was good for us to reconnect as a family, relaxing individually and collectively as one day slipped into the next. We also made sure to store up the sunlight for colder, darker days ahead back home in Nederland, but we needn’t address that at the moment.
One thing I did do while relaxing was to catch up on some expat reading.