How to hand it to you
Q. I’ve heard that in South Korea it’s rude to use your left hand to give something to someone. What’s up with that?
A. That’s right. In South Korea, it’s all about the right hand. If you’re giving something — say, money at a convenience store, a gift to a friend, a piece of paper to a co-worker — the safest bet is to use both hands. But if for some reason that’s not possible, there’s another option. You can use your right hand, but be sure to use your left hand to touch your right forearm at the same time. Apparently, that counts as two hands.
Same goes for social situations like shaking hands, exchanging business cards or pouring drinks. Technically, you can use just your right hand for those actions if the other person is younger or of lower status than you, but unless you’re well-schooled in the nuance of Korean social structure, both hands is the safest bet.
So what’s so bad about the lowly left hand? Basically, it gets a bad rap because it’s not the right hand. It once was believed that use of the right hand was governed by the part of the mind that contained Confucian teachings. Use of the left hand, then, was thought to come from the other, darker part of the mind. So using your left hand to offer or accept something was thought to be disrespectful — and that belief morphed into the custom still practiced today.
So remember: Right is right, and left is wrong — but both is best. Got it?
Got a question about goings-on in the Pacific? E-mail Stacy Chandler.