A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

11 Times You Shouldn’t Use Your Left Hand

Don't be caught doing any of these things...with your left hand.

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Three generation white family sitting at a dinner table together serving a meal, overhead view
Monkey Business Images/shutterstock

Passing to the right at the dining table

Good dining table etiquette requires passing food and drink to the right. This rule is an attempt to impose order on the process of passing food and drink at the dining table. “What’s important is that when several dishes are being passed at the same time, they all go in the same direction,” Emily Post, etiquette expert, explains. In other words, the rule could just as easily have been “pass to the left.” But someone chose “right,” and so it is. Learn more about obscure etiquette rules you probably break all the time.

2 / 11
Hand pulling interior car door handle

Opening the doors on the left-hand side of your car

Using your left hand to open any of the car doors on the left-hand side of your car increases the risk of “dooring” accidents (where a bicycle rider coming up alongside the car gets hit by an opening car door). If you open the door with your right hand, you’re forced to pivot toward the left side of the car, which means you’re more likely to see a bicycle coming up on your left. This method of door-opening is named for one particular country, which pioneered it. Can you guess which one?

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talking on mobile phone

Using your iPhone to talk on the phone

“If you’ve got an iPhone, you’re likely to get better reception if you hold it in your right hand (and right ear) during a call,” according to a report commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers regarding how effectively different smartphones caught and sent radio signals. “This could be because the left-left combination adds a greater obstruction between the phone’s antenna and the wireless signal than a right-right combination would,” suggests Quartz, a business thought leadership publication in its post about the report. No matter if you’re left-handed, right-handed, or both—these hidden iPhone hacks are sure to make your life easier no matter which hand you decide to use!

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sign language

Communicating in sign-language

When signing, it doesn’t matter which hand you use, as long as you pick a hand and stick with it. “You should not switch back and forth between dominant hands,” advises Signing Savvy. “Most signers will be able to understand your signs no matter which hand you use as the dominant hand.” So if you’ve been signing with your right as dominant, don’t switch, mid-conversation, to signing with the left. Although signing allows you to decide which hand is your dominant, this word is the longest word you can type with your left hand!

5 / 11

Food truck street food.

Passing objects in India

In India, the left hand is hand associated with personal hygiene—and that includes putting on and taking off your shoes. It’s also considered generally impure. That’s why you should never use it to pass an item—be it the salt and pepper shaker or a business card—to another person. In fact, some people in India will refuse to accept an object that’s been passed using the left hand. We bet these 50 famous left-handed people would have to think really hard about what hand they use when visiting!

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Young Indian girl child eating her chocolate doughnut or donut Mumbai, India.
Santhosh Varghese/shutterstock

Touching food in India

For the same reasons it’s considered rude to pass an object using your left hand in India, it’s also considered poor form in India to allow your left hand to come into contact with food, including serving yourself from a platter or eating off your own plate with it. These rude American manners are actually polite in other countries.

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Typical ethiopian injera food

Eating in Ethiopia

The Ethiopian style of eating forgoes utensils and individual plates in favor of breaking off pieces of “injera,” a flatbread, to scoop food up from communal bowls straight into your mouth. But only the right hand is to be used for this. As in India, people in Ethiopia are trained to use their left hand for “bathroom” purposes, so the left hand is considered “dirty.” Ethiopians don’t see currency as dirty, however; when exchanging currency from person to person, the right hand is used. Check out these funny international laws you won’t believe are real.

8 / 11
Lifestyle family people posing

Exchanging money in the Middle East

In the Middle East, unlike in Ethiopia, it’s considered rude to touch money with your left hand. It’s also rude to pick anything up with your left hand. And as in Ethiopia and India, it’s considered rude to eat with the left hand in the Middle East. Make sure you know about these/hand gestures that are rude in other countries.

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Hands weaving kente cloth - antient craft of Ghana
Ola Ndah/shutterstock

Living day-to-day in Ghana

The right side is always the “right” side in Ghana, where it’s considered taboo to use your left hand for pretty much anything. If you forget yourself and do anything with your left hand, you’ll be expected to say, “Sorry for left,” shares The Culture Chameleon. Looking to up your etiquette game at home? Don’t miss these 50 etiquette rules that are still in use today.

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Study to japanese female students

Writing in Japanese

Well, it’s not so much that you should never write in Japanese with your left hand and more about the fact that when you do, you’re going to working against yourself. The strokes that make up Japanese lettering are all written left to right, and it’s more difficult to push a stroke from left to right than to pull it, according to Sue Umezaki, an American living in Japan for the past 15 years. Wherever you’re traveling, keep this list of the 13 strangest international etiquette rules handy.

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Close up of two man shaking hands
Dmytro Zinkevych/shutterstock

Shaking hands, pretty much anywhere

In all of the aforementioned countries, where the left hand is considered dirty, shaking hands using the left hand would be out of the question. But it’s also out of the question virtually everywhere else in the world. In fact, colloquially across the United States, the term “left-handed handshake” is considered an insult and refers to insincere promises.


  • Emily Post Etiquette: “Passing Food at the Table”
  • Quartz: “Your smartphone performs better in one hand than the other”
  • Signing Savvy: “Does it matter what hand you use?”
  • Rough Guides: “Culture and Etiquette in India”
  • Lonely Planet: “Eating Etiquette”
  • The Culture Chameleon: “Ghana: A Right & A Wrong Hand”
  • CNN: “The worst way to shake hands”

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.