You a Southpaw, Son?

Hopefully everyone had a great Memorial Day. Although it’s not a holiday here, I still managed to have some delicious khorovats and drink vodka with Armenians. Alcohol and barbecue? What more can you ask for on a summer holiday?

The reason I write today though is a cultural phenomenon that rears its head every so often, but not often enough that I remembered to write about it before now: handedness

Every time I’m in the presence of new people and I take a bite, scratch an itch, jot a note, or pick up a glass, they proclaim in an astonished state, “You’re left handed?!?!?” Yeah, I am. Wanna fight about it?

Apparently, during Soviet times, yes, they did want to fight about it. You see, the reason that it’s so surprising for them that I’m a lefty is because none of them are lefties. I asked around today why. The Soviet era left behind many gems that still leave their muddy footprints all over this culture even 20 years later. One of those gems was forbidding use of the left hand in the classroom. If a student wrote with the left hand, the teacher would smack him and stick that pencil in the now quivering right hand. And instead of focusing on learning the lesson (which coming from the Soviet system would be highly valuable and useful) the student instead had to focus on using that damn right hand of his. Thus, he would fall behind his peers, etc.

Because of that, no adult in Armenia is left handed (that I know of, and I know at least 30). When they see me using the hand that is attached to my arm with the big mole (that’s how I tell left from right you know) they think of it as some sort of black magic.

From the beginning it’s been a fascinating thing for me. The speed at which they recognize my leftiness is truly amazing. Maybe I’m not realizing that when they are in the presence of this weird American they are staring at everything I do. But I think something else about me would warrant their first comment. Like, “Why is your hair long??” or “Why do you speak Armenian??” Instead, they go right for the left hand. To me, it indicates just how wrong or awkward it must look to them. Or maybe it highlights that we as Americans don’t pay much attention to what hand people use (I don’t anyway).

Why now, Kevin? As we were doing a toast at the khorovats, my counterpart’s husband looked at me and said, “Kevin, you know in Armenia we toast only with the right hand. I’m telling you so you know.” I switched the shot glass to my right hand in a subservient attempt to be culturally sensitive. The hard thing about this tradition is that there is an inverse relationship between the number of shots we drink and my ability to remember to abide by this norm.

Now the Soviet thing is disappearing and there are kids who are left handed. But it will be a while before they restock the adult population with lefties. So, don’t expect to see any left-handed relievers with last names ending in “ian” any time soon. If they’re fresh off the boat, that is.


3 Responses to “You a Southpaw, Son?”

  1. Wayne Burt Says:

    I think you better take another look at which hand Norik uses. You did kinda answer that however when you said you didn’t really pay attention to handedness.

  2. Peter Says:

    This is insane.

  3. icenugget Says:

    I totally missed it if he was a lefty. That is surprising!

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