Superstition – South Korean

When Andrew was a young child he was left handed. He would use his left hand to do everything from eat to draw and write. His mother frowned on him using his left hand every single time she observed it. When he would try to hold his fork with his left hand she would slap him on the back of the hand and scold him. When she caught him holding crayons in his left hand she would slap them out of his hand and tell him to pick them up again using his right hand. This continued all the way to kindergarten. Once Andrew began writing frequently he was caught holding his pencil in his left hand frequently. He was scolded and punished for this behavior every time he was caught.

Over time Andrew had to slowly learn how to use his right hand because of getting hit every time he got caught using his left hand. He eventually became proficient in writing with his right hand and subsequently lost the ability to use his left hand very well. He is now completely right handed and it is all because his mother did not want him to grow up using his left hand.

Andrew told me that being punished for using his left hand was one of his earliest childhood memories. His mother believed that being left handed was connected with evil. The left hand taboo can also be seen in Middle Eastern societies. In Iraq, I learned that the left hand is used in place of toilet paper when going to the facilities. In Iraqi culture it is an insult to wave at someone with your left hand or even shake hands with the left instead of the right. This notion of the left hand being bad is prevalent in Korean culture.

Andrew says that he does not have a single relative, living or dead, who is left handed. Whether or not some of them may have been converted, like he was, is a fairly strong possibility, according to Andrew. Andrew’s mother projected her cultural beliefs about what is “normal” onto Andrew.  Even in American society the left hand is still considered “different.” It is not discriminated against the way it is in Korea, but it is still viewed in a somewhat suspicious light. I believe that the belief that the left hand is connected with evil or at least some negative connotation still exists today and although it is not often discussed it still remains a belief that many people hold in the back of their heads.

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