The Taboo of the Left Hand in Yemen


CC was born and grew up in Beijing. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Arabic, and then served as an interpreter for China’s medical assisstance team sent to Yemen. He stayed in Yemen for over 10 years, helping with the communication between the patients in Yemen and the medical workers from China. During his time in Yemen, he got to know many local Yemen people and was able to learn a lot about their culture from local people.

The informant shared this piece of folk practice during an interview via phone call.

The Main Piece:

In Yemen, most people eat with their hands instead of using forks or chopsticks, etc. One has to use the right hand and may not use the left hand to eat. Also, when handing stuff to other people or receiving things from other people, one must use the right hand. It is super offensive to use the left hand to pass objects.

CC gives the reason: after defecation, the people in Yemen use water, instead of toilet papers, to clean their anus. And this is always done with the left hand. So everyone in Yemen keeps it in mind that the left hand is for the “dirty business” and the right hand is used to interact with other people.


I believe this custom reveals that the people in Yemen draw a clear line between their “private” practices and their interaction with others. I personally think that even if someone uses the left hand to hand objects to another person, it wouldn’t be that much of a big deal because the hand is already washed. But the people in Yemen still make this distinction between the left and right hand. It shows their respect for other people’s feelings, as well as their dislike for faeces.

Another interesting things is that the custom makes everyone to clean their anus with the left hand, because normally people might have different preferences for the left or right hand. This case is an example how cultural norms can shape ones habits.