Celebrating sinistrality.

Today is the day of the year where about 10% of the population (including yours truly) is singled out in a celebratory way, rather than as curiosities.

Yes, it’s international left-handers day!

While there are some who hang shite on us lefties, the majority barely notice or give any thought to how simply using a different hand could possibly be any big deal. Because unless they’ve ever broken their favoured hand, they don’t know any different. So, at the great risk of sounding like a whinge, here’s just a couple of things about life as a leftie to think about:

The kitchen – this is where I’ve gotten most comments from family, and I know of other lefties whose loved ones are a little nervous if they so much as go near a knife! Many knives are honed on one side of the blade – the side that presumably makes it safer and/or more effective for most (right-handed) users. Hell, a simple vegetable peeler can pose a challenge. And don’t get me started on can openers or bloody scissors. Utensils are THE DEVIL’S WORK! I’ve been a kitchen casualty on plenty of occasions but, despite this, my knife skills are actually pretty damn sharp.

Ballpoint pens – most people think ink on the side of the hand is our biggest problem but, quite simply, ballpoint pens don’t work as well because you’re pushing, not pulling the ball across paper. Bet you never thought of that one?

Number pads on keyboards, the left hand side of e-readers turning the page back not forward, cords on credit card signing thingimes, spiral binding on notebooks (or rings in ring binders) – they all provide a regular reminder to lefties that we are in a right-handed world.

Greeting people – As weird as it may sound, a lot of lefties struggle with greeting people with a hug, or worse, the cheek kiss. As our natural tendency is opposite to most we can head in for the cheek kiss and find ourselves bumping noses or *shudder* planting one firmly on the other person’s lips. Major awks. I personally tend to hold back and see which way the other person is going. Which of course then has people pegging me as stand-offish or ‘not a hugger’.

And then there’s trying to eat next to a rightie. I have had many a chopstick duel in my time. Not to mention accidentally picking up your neighbours drink or bread roll. Although truth be told, I’ve seen many a rightie equally perplexed by the bread roll situation. (Etiquette classes for everyone!)

Camera shutter buttons are often on the right. Pressing the button with our less-dextrous hand can make it harder for lefties to hold the camera steady while taking a picture, particularly with smartphones. (As an aside, I wonder if use of selfie sticks is proportionately higher among lefties. For the record – I DO NOT use a selfie stick. EVER.)

One win we do have?

Driving! At least in Australia, New Zealand and the UK. We drive on the left hand side of the road and, if you drive a manual, the gear stick sits to the left of the driver. The way nature intended.

leftyAt least left-handers in the western world are lucky that they only need to worry about annoyingly awkward tools, and equally awkward social exchanges. In some parts of the world, it’s offensive to do anything with your left hand besides wipe your butt. For this and other reasons, the left hand is considered unclean and carries a cultural stigma. This makes being left-handed especially perilous in social situations. Waving hello or (heaven forbid) passing food to another with your left hand could result in looks of abject horror, like you just passed them a steaming bowl of your own faeces. Which isn’t far from the actual implication.

Even in countries without such a cultural stigma, the language of the left has always had negative connotations. A backhanded compliment is also known as a ‘left-handed compliment’. And this goes back a long way. The word ‘left’ is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘lyft’, which meant weak. And ‘sinistra’, the Latin for ‘left’, is also where we get the word ‘sinister’. ‘Gauche’, which we use to refer to unsophisticated and socially awkward, is actually French for ‘left’. ‘Mancino’, the Italian word for left-handed also means treacherous or deceitful. Why is your partner in crime is your ‘right-hand man’? It’s because the guy on your left can’t be trusted.

There are universities that study left-handedness. It’s how we know that statistically speaking, as a leftie, I’m apparently a higher chance of being an addict, a psychopath, ending up in prison, or dying earlier than righties. On the positive side, lefties are proportionately more likely to work in a creative field and have an IQ over 130. (Hello, small mercies!)

There is also a fair argument that we’re natural problem solvers and lateral thinkers. We have to be in order to adapt to a world that is set up for righties. I learned very early on how to write without getting ink on my hand – and without the claw-like action many lefties use.

What’s most interesting is that we’re very rarely, if ever, completely one handed. That applies whether you’re a leftie or a rightie. In most cases I favour my left hand – a major inconvenience last year when I broke my left wrist – but there are some cases where I favour my right. There are others still where I favour neither hand. Overall, I’m apparently 75% left handed, but I have discovered that I’m right eyed*. What the hell?

So to our rightie friends I would say, spare a thought for us weirdy left-handers as we navigate your world. Mostly uncomplaining, but almost always very awkwardly. And if we kiss you on the nose (or worse) at first meet, it’s not some weird greeting. And it’s (probably) not a sign of something more.

Just in case you were wondering.

*To test your ‘eyed-ness’ look at a fixed point in the distance and point to it with your finger (you can use either hand). Keep your eye on the fixed point and close one eye. Switch and close the other eye. The eye that is open when your finger stays put against the fixed point is your dominant eye. In the case of your non-dominant eye, your finger will appear to move away from the fixed point.

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