I Want to Say Thank You With Two Hands

I have some experience in two formal styles of greeting etiquette (four if you include Dickens Faire Victorian and Renaissance Faire Tudor, which I’m not) which disagree on the polite way to hand something to someone.

In a Shito-Ryu Karate Do dojo, when you want to give or take something respectfully, you do it with two hands and a small bow. Get a new belt? Two hands and a small bow. Handing a sword to a friend? Two (careful!) hands and a small bow.

I start every one of my classes handing back the job applications my students turned in that morning with my edits. I have a number of students who grew up in South Korea, China, or Japan and they always accept their homeworks with two hands and so I try to make a point of handing it to them with two hands.

In Arabic-speaking countries, the polite way to give or take something is with the right-hand only. When I’m in my Arabic Language or Arabic Literature class and my teachers (one from Egypt, the other from Morocco) hand me an assignment or I turn in a quiz, we do so without the small bow and with our right hands only.

I remember visiting Qatar for the first time, before I had studied Arabic or lived in the Middle East, and though I was fascinated I was nervous about being polite in a more formal culture. So, being crazily jet-lagged, I defaulted to my most conservative form of etiquette in self-defense: Japanese. So everywhere I went, not only was I the tall gringa wearing men’s shirts and absurdly short hair, but I was bowing to everyone and inappropriately using my left hand.

Trying to use the right hand-etiquette in the right situation is not life-or-death in Pittsburgh, PA, or really anywhere. But it’s a game, to try and see if I’m paying enough attention to where other people come from. It’s a small gesture that reminds me how rich our different home cultures are.

Inspirational Quote:

“You cannot help but learn more as you take the world into your hands. Take it up reverently, for it is an old piece of clay, with millions of thumbprints on it.”–John Updike

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