13 Aug Let the Best Hand Rule
One of my friends is left-handed and she asked me to talk about the International Left-Handers Day. She called it the Southpaws’ Day.
On Friday August 13, 1976, incidentally a month before we set foot in the United States, the Lefthanders International set aside a day to “celebrate the uniqueness and differences of the left handers.” Later, Left Handers Club was founded in England. And a website AnythingLeftHanded.co.uk provides products designed with the lefties’ convenience in mind. As does Amazon, obviously.
I had never met a leftie before coming to America. They simply did not exist – responsible parents would always correct that defect before it went too far, teachers said, because it made people subpar workers.
But we did study The Leftie, a story about a left-handed wizard-craftsman and his two friends who awed British masters by shoeing their dancing toy made in the form of a flea. One could only see it through a microscope. The Leftie fashioned the nails while his friends made the horseshoes. The moral was that Russians, even left-handed ones, always had one up on foreigners. The shoed flea, however, could not dance because its legs became heavier.
Forewarned Is Forearmed
Imagine our surprise when we saw an entire paragraph devoted to left-handedness in the chapter “Hints about everyday American life” of the brochure Entering a New Culture: A Handbook for Soviet Migrants to the United States of America we received from HIAS in Rome.
It said: “Don’t be surprised if you see a fair number of left-handed people (including President Ford). American schools do not prohibit the use of the left hand for writing. And in New York there is even a special shop for left-handed people!”
Easy to say don’t be surprised… We did try not to stare when our caseworker used her left hand to dial the phone. We shook our heads at TV images of officials unashamedly affixing signatures with their left hand.
But it turned out that the West had not always been so enlightened. Parents and teachers used to force children to change their writing hand. They tied their left arm behind the back, bandaged the left hand, rapped knuckles with a ruler. Our landlord told us proudly that he had kept his son’s arm in a plaster sleeve for months – “he was going to make the sign of the cross with his right hand if it killed him.”
On the other hand, no pun intended, the Boy Scout handshake uses the left hand. Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, adopted it from an African warrior tribe. They believed that the bravest drop their shield to shake with a left hand. Putting down the sword to shake with your right hand shows that you would not attack but do not trust the other person enough.
In Good Company
The left side produced a lot of expressions: out of left field, to have two left feet, a left-handed compliment. If a piece of clothing is inside-out we say, in Russian, that it’s left side out. About someone who has an extramarital affair we say, in Russian, that they go to the left. An illegal income is a “left” income.
Left-handers get all kinds of nicknames, not all of them positive. Southpaw is the most popular. It has something to do with baseball. Babe Ruth was a southpaw. They also make exceptional tennis players, boxers and fencers.
Almost all of the designers of the Mac computer were lefties and a quarter of Apollo astronauts including Neil Armstrong. And a goodly number of American presidents: Truman, Reagan and Ford who were forced as children to write right-handed, Clinton, Obama.
Greek philosopher Aristotle, Roman Emperor Julius Caesar, Albert Einstein… Too many to list but it’s clear that if you are left-handed you are in good company and Happy Left-Handers Day to you!